Skip to main content

Full text of "The beautiful Mrs. Davenant; a novel of love and mystery"

See other formats


This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project 
to make the world's books discoverable online. 

It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject 
to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books 
are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that's often difficult to discover. 

Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file - a reminder of this book's long journey from the 
publisher to a library and finally to you. 

Usage guidelines 

Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the 
public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to 
prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying. 

We also ask that you: 

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for 
personal, non-commercial purposes. 

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google's system: If you are conducting research on machine 
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the 
use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help. 

+ Maintain attribution The Google "watermark" you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find 
additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it. 

+ Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just 
because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other 
countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of 
any specific book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner 
anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe. 

About Google Book Search 

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Google Book Search helps readers 
discover the world's books while helping authors and publishers reach new audiences. You can search through the full text of this book on the web 

at http : //books . google . com/| 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



^^'CX^lo"^l ^. ^-^ ^. ^"^'^ 



^^ 



/7r 




Digiti 



ized by Google 




ir 



J> 



Digitized by VjOOQI^ 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE BEAUTIFUIL MRS. DAVENANT 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



cA/f ^t -^ aV_ ^tiji^'^f/qM 



' 'fk/. 



THE BEAUTIFUL 
MRS. DAVENANT 

A NOVEL OF LOVE AND MYSTERY 



BY 

VIOLET XWEEDALE 

AUXHOS 07 ''GH0s£1[ HAVE SEEM," ETC. 



NEW YORK 

FREDERICK A- STOKES (X)MPANY 

PUBLISHERS 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



TEE rev; y?-?X 
PUBLIC LIBIURT 

ASTOR, LKNOX AND 
TILDJKM FOUJ>i£>ATI0KS 



Copyright, 1920, by 
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY 



AU Rights Reserved 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



•J 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTEB PAGS 

I. The Coming of Mrs. Davenant . . i 

II. The Heart of the Mystery ... 7 

III. The Ladies of Little Glentworth . 15 

IV. Suspicion 37 

V. The Nameless Fear 48 

VI. The Lovers 56 

VII. Mrs. Davenant meets Harry ... 74 

VIII. Local Gossip 86 

IX. Agnes Howard's Secret .... 106 

X. Lord Lester's Advice 120 

XI. Claude Carlton makes a Discovery 138 

XII. Mrs. Davenant at Bay 152 

XIII. Mutual Confession 165 

XIV. Confronted 174 

XV. Warburton's Advice 189 

XVI. Saidie Hall sees into the Future . 200 

XVII. Letty faces the Terror .... 208 

XVIII. Murder 216 

XIX. The Escape 228 

XX. Death comes to the Lake House . 238 

XXI. Warburton's Task 250 

XXII. Agnes Howard's Reward .... 267 

XXIII. Geoffrey Thorpe's Confession . . 280 

XXrV. Mrs. Davenant decides .... 290 

XXV. "Good-bye, Sweetheart, Goqd-bye" . 299 

V 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE BEAUTIFUL 
MRS DAVENANT 

CHAPTER I 

THE COMING OF MRS. DAVENANT 

THE sun was beginning to decline. The hot 
September afternoon was wearing on into eve- 
ning, and the three hours' dusty journey was drawing 
to a close. 

The beautiful Mrs. Davenant looked across at her 
only traveling companion, whose name she now knew 
to be Miss Letty Thome. The girl was staring 
dreamily out of the window, apparently lost in her 
own thoughts, and the silent watcher concluded 
they must be very happy ones, not only because of 
what she had seen, but because of the tender little 
smile that played over her face. 

Not exactly a pretty face, decided Mrs. Davenant, 
it's more elfish than pretty! The delicate features 
were finely cut, but had no girlish roundness, and 
there were traces of care and anxiety on the young 
brow, and the large thoughtful gray eyes were shad- 
owed. Even the soft hair that waved back in natural 
ripples from her cheeks seemed of too pale a hue 
against the colorless dcin. Yet, withal it was a face 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

that some one loved, and the low tones of the gentle 
voice had an underlying note of passionate feeling. 

Mrs. Davenant thought of the warmth and passion 
of that parting she had witnessed at the carriage door 
before the train moved out of London. "How wise 
they are/' she thought, as she watched their utter 
indifference to onlookers. "They both seem to under- 
stand that in order to seize the opportunity of a life- 
time, it must be seized during the life-time of the 
opportunity. They instinctively seem to realize that 
they may never meet again, so they're taking time 
by the throat and damning the consequences." 

A man, yoimg, finely set up, with a strong, good- 
looking face, had taken Miss Letty Thome in his 
arms, and quite unabashed had given her several warm, 
lingering kisses. 

"Good-by, my own darling. Cheer up. It won't 
be so long before we meet again," and Letty Thome's 
reply had been inaudible, muffled in a tweed breast. 
Mrs. Davenant had strained her ears to catch it. All 
her sympathies flew to attention. She was profoundly 
interested, for she adored a love story, and believed 
firmly and unalterably in love. There was nothing 
to touch it in all the wide world. It was the only 
gift really worth having, and those two young crea- 
tures, favored of the gods, had discovered this pearl 
above price, and were treasuring it as the gift of 
heaven. She, herself, had known what it meant, but 
only for a very short time. It had cost her dear, yet 
she would not have been without it, and never had 
she swerved from her belief in its superlative desir- 
ability. The glimpse she had of that parting inclined 
her warmly towards her traveling companion. She 
longed to hear the whole story, and enter into its 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE COMING OF MRS. DAVENANT 3 

miracle, for to every woman a real love affair always 
is a miracle, but after making friendly overtures to 
her Miss Thome had not even distantly approached 
the enthralling subject, though she had been com- 
municative on others. 

Whilst the train rushed along they had admired 
a lovely old manor embowered in woods, and she had 
smiled and said, "How beautiful, and how different 
from my home !" 

"Where is your home?" asked Mrs. Davenant, very 
gently. 

"A narrow, red brick house in the dullest street 
of Hammersmith. That is my home." 

"And your father and mother live there, I sup- 
pose?" 

She shook her head sadly. "I have neither. They died 
years ago. I live with my aunt. Miss Fanny Thorpe." 
Then she had gone on to speak quite simply and natu- 
rally of her past history, of her solitary childhood spent 
in a tiny London house, of her mother's death and 
her father's long illness, and of the yet sadder days 
when he was gone, and her mother's sister had adopted 
her. A weary life that had been for the girl. Her 
aunt had striven to do her duty, but it had been 
sternly done, and she had neither patience nor sjrm- 
pathy with the young. Letty Thome knew she was a 
burden, and there had been little love between them. 

After all this never a hint or word of the big 
young man who had so adoringly embraced her on 
parting. Though now in mufti, he had obviously been 
through the war. He looked a soldier, every inch of 
him. In that impassioned farewell he showed himself 
to be a bom lover. 

Mrs. Davenant was disappointed, though she was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



4 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

careful not to show it, and the girl had gone on to say 
that she was on her way to spend her holidays with 
her uncle, her aunt's only brother, at the Lake House, 
a couple of miles outside Great Glentworth. The 
house, she had heard, was so named because there had 
once been a big lake in its park. Now the lake was 
overgrown, and had become little more than a pond. 
She had seen her uncle, but never his house, and she 
rather dreaded the visit. As a child he had been cross 
and disagreeable to her, and the only words she could 
remember his having spoken were, "Go away and be 
quiet.'' 

Aunt Fanny always referred to him as "very pe- 
culiar." He had never married, and was domineered 
over by an old housekeeper. 

Mrs. Davenant listened to all this with rapt at- 
tention. "How strange," she kept whispering to her- 
self. "How strange, yet I knew a Thorpe still lived 
there. I've done with Thorpes for all time, but their 
seal is indelibly imprinted on my life." 

"You say you are going to spend holidays with your 
uncle; do you then work for your own living?" she 
asked. 

"Yes, I'm a governess. My pupil is a very delicate 
girl of twelve. She's gone to the sea with her mother, 
and I'm not required for some weeks. Aunt doesn't 
need me at home, she's going to stay with friends. 
Mr. Thorpe's only taking me in to oblige his sister." 

Mrs. Davenant smiled into the pale dreamy face, 
and thought again of that parting. Life could not 
really be gray with such a lover as that to see one 
oflf by train and give one such adorable kisses. 

"You must come and see me at Little Glentworth. 
My name is Mrs. Davenant, and a dear friend lives 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE COMING OF MRS. DAVENANT 5 

with me named Miss Agnes Howard. She's already 
installed^ and I've taken the house on lease. I am 
charmed with the beauty of the country, and very 
tired of town life. Probably the Lake House is only 
a mile or two away. I believe we are just running 
into Great Glentworth station." 

The train had slowed down, and in another minute 
or two Mrs. Davenant and her traveling companion 
found^ themselves on the diminutive platform, with a 
f oo^nan and a solitary porter handling the luggage. 

**Good-by, and thank you ever so much for your 
kindness to me," said Miss Thorne, offering a timid 
hand. "May I really come to see you ?" 

"Why, yes! Til send a note to the Lake House. 
Of course you've some one or something here to meet 
you?" 

The girl blushed scarlet and shook her head. "Oh, 
no. You see I've only got a tiny trunk which can be 
sent for, and this suit-case is quite light Uncle 
doesn't even know what train to expect me by, and 
the short walk is nothing." She turned aside in hur- 
ried confusion, but Mrs. Davenant stopped her per- 
emptorily. 

"I'll drop you. Miss Thorne. You shan't run away 
like that No, I insist. Please don't argue with me; 
I'm sure we pass your gate on the way to Little Glent- 
worth." 

She put a restraining hand on the girl's arm, and 
they moved out of the station together to where a 
motor-car was in waiting with a top capable of carry- 
ing a considerable amount of baggage. 

Mrs. Davenant proved correct. The Lake House 
must be passed en route, and soon they were running 
through the tiny village, and emerged on to the broad 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

white high road. In another ten minutes the chauffeur 
began to slow down, atid finally drew up of^)osite a 
very dilapidated pair of iron gates. They stood ajar, 
and beyond them stretched a deeply-shadowed road 
which turned out to be the short approach to the Lake 
House. It was a tangled thicket of briars and weeds, 
and even Mrs. Davenant's warm-hearted s)anpathy 
was unequal to having her car badly scratched by the 
heavy overhanging boughs. At the girl's earnest re- 
quest, she and her luggage were deposited just inside 
the gates, and with a sinking heart Letty Thome 
watched her new-found friend disappear in a cloud 
of dust. Then she turned and resolutely moved for- 
ward to the dreaded meeting. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER II 

THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY 

IN the midst of dense dark woods the Lake House 
stood alone. 

Letty Thome saw it for the first time under the 
most favorable circumstances, in all the luxuriant 
beauty which summer could wrap around it; but when 
she entered the doorway it struck her that she left 
the brilliant sunshine outside. The interior looked 
dark and forbidding, and as if no sun-ray had ever 
X)enetrated its brooding twilight 

The bell was obviously broken, so she crept into 
the big stone hall and stood listening intently. Not 
the faintest sound of life fell upon her ear, and she 
stared round her in growing apprehension. 

"It is like a mausoleum, a house of the dead. How 
can I live here even for one night?" she asked her- 
self. 

A few old portraits hung upon the walls between 
strips of tattered arras. Damp and decay would soon 
make an end of both. Four closed doors, two on each 
side, and a crazy-looking uncarpeted staircase faced 
her, and whilst she stood in miserable hesitancy the 
sound of a short dry cough roused her to action. 
Summoning all her courage she moved forward and 
turned a door handle. 

When she set foot on the oak floor of the room 



Digitized by 



Google 



8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS, DAVENANT 

which her uncle, Geoffrey Thorpe, chose to occupy as 
dining-room and library in one — when she glanced up 
at the low heavily-beamed ceiling, her courage ebbed 
away; yet she had not come unprepared for the gloom 
of the place. 

Aunt Fanny, in her rare expansive moments, had 
spoken of the old family home as desperately depress- 
ing. Her brother had inherited it from a cousin, and 
had passed from a life of extravagance and constant 
indebtedness to considerable wealth and great penuri^ 
ousness. The sudden change in his fortune seemed as 
suddenly to change his nature, and instead of keeping 
up the comfortable establishment he had inherited, he 
retained one woman servant only, dismissing all the 
other old retainers and shutting up the greater part 
of the house. Aunt Fanny had said that by this action 
he had turned the coimty against him, and that his 
housekeeper cowed him completely by virtue of the 
power of a strong mind over a weak one. She had 
added that her brother's peculiarities had given rise 
to much gossip in the neighborhood. Silly folk said 
the place was haunted. The peasantry would not 
approach it after dark, and the gentry shuddered when 
they spoke of its dreary, neglected aspect. Through 
the woods surrounding the house and thence to the 
willows by the lake wound a path, which tradition 
said was kept bare by no mortal feet. The cottagers 
called it the "Ghost's Walk.*' "But don't mention this 
subject to your uncle, whatever you do," had ad- 
monished Aunt Fanny. "If you wish to live at peace 
with him during your stay, avoid all mention of rumors 
and gossip." 

Geoffrey Thorpe was seated in front of a table, a 
mass of papers under his trembling hands. As his 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY 9 

niece entered he looked up without surprise or curiosity 
and, nodded curtly. It was not, however, his chilly 
and casual welcome which arrested her steps, and 
caused her to stand silent and motionless on the 
threshold. It was partly the great change that she 
saw had passed over him, and partly it was the portrait 
of a man which hung on the wall behind him. A large, 
defiant, aggressive portrait of a man. The eyes, filled 
with stem condemnation, seemed to fix themselves 
upon Letty Thome. Yet the portrait seemed also to 
dominate the room, and its fresh coloring appeared to 
make the man who sat beneath it even more faded, 
more withered than he really was. 

It flashed across Letty's mind that her uncle had 
purposely turned his back upon it, yet could not forget 
it. Why had he not removed it? What had so 
terribly changed him from the hale and active man of 
fifty she remembered? The snows of extreme old age 
were on his head and sunken jaws. His shoulders 
stooped painfully, and his keen glassy eyes, sunk deep 
in their sockets, were restless and suspicious. The only 
familiar thing was his voice, and the words he spoke. 

"So you've arrived, have you ! Well ! now you are 
here I hope you'll give as little trouble as possible. I've 
only one woman in the house, and Fd do without her 
if I could. Please remember there's to be no friction 
between you. Mrs. Greatrex understands my ways, 
and will see you have what is necessary. You'd better 
be civil to her. Do you tmderstand?" 

"Perfectly, thank you, uncle." 

So this was all that was required of her. To give 
no trouble, and be civil to Sarah Greatrex. She might 
have asked where the woman was to be found, but 
she did not. Her pride was up in arms. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



10 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Geoflfrey Thorpe had bent once more over his papers 
as if to signify that their interview was ended, and she 
turned and left the room as quietly as she had entered 
it 

Once more she stood in the dreary hall. A gnome- 
like man, half groom, half gardener, was carrying her 
luggage upstairs, and she inquired her way to the back 
premises. He jerked his head in the direction of a 
passage running to the left, and passing down this and 
pushing open a door ajar Letty found herself face to 
face with Sarah Greatrex. 

The woman was seated before a log fire, upon which 
steamed a kettle. The great square kitchen felt and 
smelt like a vault, and the scanty furniture looked 
moldering and worm eaten. Even the clock held its 
hands before its face as if to say "Don't enter. We 
want no one to disturb our deathlike sleep." In spite 
of the fire, and the soft warmth of the evening the 
place struck damp, chilly and utterly uninviting. 

Mrs. Greatrex rose as Letty Thome crossed the 
threshold. She kept her sewing in her hands, and 
responded civilly enough to the gentle "Good evening. 
I am Miss Thome." 

"You were expected some time. I've got a room 
ready for you, but most of them are shut up. You'd 
like a cup of tea, I suppose?" 

Her tone was surly and unwilling, and without fur- 
ther words she turned to the door and passed out, 
Letty following her. 

The appearance of Sarah Greatrex was repellent in 
the extreme. She was very tall and gaunt. Her black 
hair was thickly streaked with white, and very roughly 
kept Her features were harsh, the skin sallow, and 
the black beady eyes furtive and restless. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY ii 

She led the way up a narrow back staircase, which 
emerged on a long empty gallery. Passing down the 
creaking floor she opened a door at the far end, "This 
is your bedroom/' she announced abruptly. 

In the middle of tiie floor stood the luggage, and 
Letty Thome walked forward to the window and 
looked out. A lump had risen in her throat, an unrea- 
soning fit of deep depression enveloped her and she 
did not turn as she heard the door close behind the 
housekeeper. The situation appeared intolerable to 
her, but she struggled bravely against her forebodings, 
and turned her thoughts to the scene before her, which 
was lovely enough to banish gloom. There lay the 
beauty of waving woods, and checkered green and 
yellow fields. Beyond, rose mp the dark red chimneys 
of some distant mansion, leaf-embowered, and beyond 
that again was the sky, aflame with pink and gold 
and imperial purple. 

In the immediate foreground lay a weed-grown, 
stone-flagged courtyard, encircled by a moldering 
wall half hidden by brambles and ivy, and just out- 
side those confines the neglected trees and shrubs, 
clustered in wild luxuriance. The gate leading ouf 
of the court had vanished, and a pathway led through 
the foliage, and speedily lost itself in the dense green 
gloom. 

It was as fair a scene as ever worshiper of natural 
beauty could wish for, but its very beauty and stillness 
filled Letty Thome with a desperate desire to run 
away. She was unaccustomed to loneliness, and here 
her solitude would be well-nigh complete. A dread 
possessed her that when she turned round it would be 
to face the emptiness of a very grim room. There 
would be no voice to answer hers, no presence to miti- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



12 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

gate the solitude. The change was so absolute that 
as she looked into the future, the glorious hopes and 
possibilities that reigned there had vanished into a 
far-off, dim obscurity. 

A sound at the door roused her from out her dark 
reflections, and she wheeled round to find that a tray 
had been deposited upon the table, and the bearer of 
it had vanished without a word. 

Whilst seated at her solitary meal Letty surveyed the 
large apartment. It was fast falling into darkness, but 
she discovered four candles, and at once lit them with 
a sense of relief in even the little light they afforded. 
There was but a sullen gloom reflected from the pol- 
ished wood of the wainscot. The dark green hangings 
would have quenched the light of a brilliant illumina- 
tion, and all the furniture was of a solid, serious kind 
of antiquity. 

The room itself was large and low, and the walls 
were paneled with oak almost as black as ebony, while 
two great beams of oak crossed the ceiling. The man- 
telpiece was of the same dark wood, carved in gro- 
tesque taste, and with the patient minuteness of days 
gone by. There were half-a-dozen smoke-grimed por- 
traits of long dead women and men. Two fine gentle- 
men in ruffs, and one in a periwig. The ladies were in 
farthingale, sack and hooped brocade. In the dim 
flickering candlelight they seemed to move uneasily in 
their tarnished frames. Against the wall stood a huge 
four-poster, shrouded in dark green tattered silk. 

A fine room no doubt, but one calculated to depress 
the spirits of its occupant, thought Letty Thome, as 
she peered around it with anything but pleasure. The 
sort of room where one might make the acquaintance 
of the Green Lady, or the little old woman in yellow 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY 13 

satin, with the clicking high-heeled shoes, who comes to 
the side of the bed and maliciously surveys its occu- 
pant till swooning or death relieves the pressure. Or, 
maybe, it is the sad and slender girl in white who 
walks here. The girl with the pale distraught face, 
and the blood oozing from her breast, who floats across 
the floor wringing her hands, and disappears through 
the wall. Or might it not be the man in armor, who 
sits staring into the fireplace till the beholder in the 
bed goes raving mad? 

Letty laughed aloud at her whimsical fancies, and 
felt suddenly very tired and sleepy, for which she gave 
thanks in her heart. A wakeful night would not be 
a pleasant prospect. A distant village clock chimed 
nine, and she began to unpack. 

For a moment or two she stood by a candle gazing 
down at a photograph she held. The portrait of a 
man, powerfully built, lean, muscular. The pose of 
the head was fiill of dignity and strength, as were the 
sincere, grave eyes. A face not without moral loftiness 
and intellect. Youthful and betraying the primitive 
nature of passion, but surely disciplined to the higher 
nature of control. The eyes seemed to smile into hers, 
and for a long moment she held the picture to her lips ; 
then she wrapped it up again in a silk handkerchief, 
and with a little sigh put it back in her trunk. 

"Ah! My beloved, what would life be to me with- 
out you?" she whispered softly to herself. 

When the candles were extinguished, and she was 
in bed, sleep was slow to come to her, tired though she 
was. There was not a sound throughout the house, 
but through the open window drifted nature-sounds, 
the hoot of an owl, and the distant baying of a dog. In 
vain she repeated her prayers, and strove to fix her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



14 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

mind upon their meaning. In vain she thought over 
her journey, and the beauty and kindness of her 
traveling companioa How lovely Mrs. Davenant 
was, with her masses of dark brown hair, her delicate 
features, and radiant smile. What a marvelous thing 
a smile could be, when so radiant and illuminating, 
and those big soft blue eyes fringed with black lashes, 
and the row of glittering white teeth that seemed to 
match the pearls at her throat. 

Then her clothes were a dream of cut, finish and 
suitability. Ah! how delicious to have clothes like 
that, thought Letty, as she tossed and turned uneasily. 
A little breeze had arisen, and sang the old, old lullaby 
that it first sang when God divided land from water. 
Always sweet and sad as summer wind must be, it 
seemed laden now with dreams of the rosy future, with 
Divine mysteries, as it blended with those other nature 
voices of the night. Gradually Letty Thome sank 
into the unconsciousness of dreamless slumber. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER III 

THE LADIES OP LITTLE GLENTWORTH 

**T ET'S call this afternoon on Mrs. Davenant." 
J-^ Major Claude Carlton, owner of Great Glent- 
worth and all its broad acres, was seated at lunch 
with his mother, under conditions which approached 
perfection. Superb health, above average good looks, 
owner of a very fine property with still ample means 
to keep it up, and not a personal care in the world. 
Such were the gifts the gods had showered upon him, 
and certainly he would have been duly grateful had 
he ever considered his circumstances, but when a man 
has known no other condition of life he is apt to take 
what is his as a matter of course. 

He believed that he lived a very active life and there 
was no streak of indolence in his character, but after 
five years at the front his activities were now confined 
to doing the things he wanted to do, and thoroughly 
enjoyed doing. A soldier's profession was by no means 
irksome to him, and he very readily and intelligently 
rendered a good accotmt of his stewardship at home, 
not so much because the good of his dependents was a 
sacred duty, but because, as a boy, he had been taught 
that certain courses of action would be expected of 
him and meant playing the game. He had come 
through the war without a scratch, and he never will- 
ingly referred back to his part in the terrible enterprise. 

15 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Mrs, Carlton winked one eye, and the single monocle 
dropped on its wire. She ceased contemplating through 
the open window the lovely lands over which the 
glamor of the bright September day was cast. 

"Righto! I suppose they've settled down by now. 
The companion, Miss Howard — ^isn't that her name? — 
must have been in residence for at least a fortnight" 

"And Mrs. Davenant arrived the day before yester- 
day. Webb passed the car on the road coming from 
the statioa Looked like a big Rolls Royce, he thought. 
I'll be shooting to-morrow. I've asked Jim Hall, and 
I suppose you'll come out with us? Let's drive over 
this afternoon. Shall it be the car or the gees?" 

"I'll drive the roans," decided his mother, "they've 
not been in harness this week. We can go to the 
Webbs if Mrs. Davenant's out. I owe them a call, but 
I hope she won't be out. I'm rather curious to see her. 
One has heard so much of her, and she's rather a 
mystery." 

"I don't know an)rthing about a mystery. I used 
to hear of her entertaining in town before the war. 
She's a well-to-do widow with a beauty reputation. 
I've never heard an)rthing but good of her," replied 
Claude, helping himself to half a cold partridge. 

Mrs. Carlton poured herself out a glass of Burgundy 
and held it up to the light. 

"No more have I, dear boy, but no one knows who 
or what her husband was, or where her wealth comes 
from." 

"Who cares a hang for any of those things? Blest 
if I do," retorted her son. 

Mrs. Carlton smiled across at him in perfect agree- 
ment, and stroked down her back hair, which was 
cropped close to her head like a man's, only more so. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 17 

"I wonder she's never married again/' she solilo- 
quized aloud. 

"Shows she's a woman of sense, my dear mother. 
What more does she want ? She's got a rattling good 
social position and perfect freedom. She'd be mad to 
make a changfe, and she'll be an Ai tenant I feel we 
ought to run over to-day and see if she wants anything 
done. I'm willing to meet her if there is." 

Mrs. Carlton readily agreed, as she always did when 
her one and only child made a reasonable suggestion. 
He was master, a fact she never forgot, and whilst she 
continued to act as the chatelaine of his beautiful 
home, she kept ever before her the frailty of her ten- 
ure. She had endured four years of agony, any day she 
might hear of her son's death ; now she calculated that 
any day Claude might fall in love and bring home a 
wife, and her reign would be over. She had done well 
by the property, being preeminently a country woman 
coming of soimd country stock, and when she married 
Squire Carlton of Great Glentworth she had entered 
into his work in stable, farm and garden in a practical, 
energetic and knowledgeable manner. She still rode 
to hounds, and schooled her home-bred hunters, and 
the Home Farm had never been let in her day, but was 
run, in her son's absence with his regiment, under her 
personal supervision by a competent bailiff. 

When Claude had finished his thoroughly British 
education, consisting of all the sports, a smattering of 
the dead and no knowledge whatever of the modern 
languages, he entered the Guards. He might be, 
indeed he was, woefully ignorant of all social and 
political questions lying outside the tiny island of his 
birth, but he was a gentleman in the true sense of the 
word, and he understood that not to play the game was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



l8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

an unforgivable disgrace. During his periods of leave 
which he always spent at home, he was well content 
to signify his approval of his mother's work, and leave 
his business affairs more than less in her hands. He 
was proud and extremely attached to his ancestral 
home. Those three sides of a square of old red brick 
masonry, with a tower in the center, and the long, wide 
grass terraces running down to the trout stream below, 
could hold their own against any of the minor seats 
of the English nobility. He loved that side of English 
country life which is so invigorating and healthy for 
mind and body. He had always been keen on sport, 
and had been brought up in the saddle by his mother, 
and shown the way "over the sticks" before he was 
ten. She had seen to it, that before he left Eton he 
rode straight, and could bring down a woodcock or 
rocketer. That she had made a thorough man of 
her son was the fulfillment of her proudest ambi- 
tion. 

A deep friendship existed betwixt mother and son. 
When the squire died, the result of a chill caught at 
the cover-side, Claude was only seven years old, and the 
widow knew she had now to fill the role of both 
parents. The boy was thoroughly normal, daring, wild 
as a hawk, and up to any form of mischief, and so long 
as there was no tendency to vice the«mischief was en- 
couraged. 

Sybil Carlton was enabled, owing to her splendid 
health and physical fitness, to share in all her son's 
pursuits, and they rode to hounds, stood at the cover- 
side, and strode the stubble side by side in perfect 
comradeship. The five years' nightmare was now a 
thing of the past. Claude had done well and come 
through. Mrs. Carlton did not think more of those 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 19 

five years than she could help, and her son helped her 
to banish the hideous memory. 

Now, at the age of thirty, Claude still looked upon 
his mother as his best pal. There had, of course, been 
other women in his life, but so far they had been but 
episodes, and he seemed in no hilrry to marry. He 
had just let his mother's dower house to Mrs. Davenant 
for a term of years, without giving her possible need 
of it a passing thought, and Sybil Carlton had not 
deemed it necessary to put in the smallest suggestion of 
her claim. 

As mother and son entered the drawing-room at 
Little Glentworth, Mrs. Davenant was also entering 
it by the conservatory door, and the two women as 
they shook hands presented a striking contrast. 

Mrs. Carlton's naturally dark skin was tanned by 
wind and weather to the shade of a ripe chestnut, her 
lean face was a network of fine wrinkles, but her large 
brown eyes and excellent teeth were still in first-rate 
working order, and in its slender uprightness her figure 
was still that of a girl. The hoUand suit she wore was 
cut on the severest masculine lines, and the soft shirt 
and neat tie were the same in style and pattern as those 
of her son. In her hand she held a brown Homburg 
hat, which she? always removed on entering a room, 
displaying an exceedingly smooth head of closely- 
cropped, iron-gray hair, white on the temples. 

She stripped off her loose doeskin glove as she took 
Mrs. Davenant's soft palm in hers, and quite uncon- 
sciously surveyed her through the single monocle with 
the same appraising observation she bestowed upon her 
horses and cattle. 

"So pleased to meet you. Hope you're shaking 
down and finding all you require," she said genially. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



20 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

She liked what she saw. Yes! Mrs. Davenant de- 
served the q)ithet "beautiful" that was generally be- 
stowed upon her, and though the antithesis of herself, 
Mrs. Carlton liked womanly women. There was too 
much of the male in her own composition to do other- 
wise. "A dangerous neighbor," was her first im- 
pression; then she laughed aloud at her own thoughts, 
and shot out her cuffs. "Well! why shouldn't he if 
he fancies her? It's time he settled." As she silently 
came to this conclusion, she turned to the introduction 
of Miss Howard, who just then entered. "An unusual 
pair of women," she decided as she sat down and dis- 
cussed practical details, whilst her son conversed with 
Mrs. Davenant. 

Miss Agnes Howard was not young, she was at least 
thirty-five, but she could scarcely have been handsomer 
at any time of her life than now. A big, grand-looking 
woman, with a clear olive complexion, no color, r^u- 
lar features, fine blue eyes, and dark brown abimdant 
hair. 

"Whatever the mystery may be they're both gentle- 
women," concluded Mrs. Carlton, as she talked shrewd 
generalities, for though not choosing to argue out the 
subject with her son, she had made her own 
private inquiries from several generally well-informed 
sources. 

"Yes," wrote her sister, Lady Tadcaster, who knew 
every one and went everywhere, "of course I know the 
beautiful Mrs. Davenant. Every one dans le monde 
does, and every one admires her immensely. She calls 
herself a widow, so I presume she is one, but I have 
never met any one who knew the late lamented. He's 
something of a mystery. A Miss Howard lives with 
her as companion, but not one of the Howards. You 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 21 

will find Mrs. Davenant charming, well bred, rich and 
very good looking, also very attractive to men/^ The 
four latter words were heavily underlined and certainly 
conveyed a warning. "The companion — I wonder/' 
speculated Mrs. Carlton, as she studied Miss Howard, 
and noted the cut of her cream flannel coat and skirt, 
and the two fine diamond hoop rings she wore on her 
slim brown finger. 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Davenant with her much quicker 
vision was taking in, as a complete picture, Major 
Carlton. She rather liked that quiet composure of 
manner which suggested the lord of the soil, though 
it was an absurd pose in these democratic days, she 
thought. She admired the big, strong type, the rather 
roughly cut features, the fair mustache and straight- 
looking blue eyes. 

"I hope we're not disturbing you too soon after 
your arrival, but we thought perhaps we might be of 
some use to you. Possibly you might want some small 
alteration in the house or garden. I'd be glad to do 
.anything that would add to your comfort" 

He spoke rather slowly in a pleasant voice, and his 
smile was as slow as his voice. She was conscious that 
he addressed her with a certain freedom, though with- 
out a trace of familiarity, and by that she understood 
instantly that he was a man accustomed to women, ac- 
customed to share with them the beginnings and end- 
ings of varied experiences, thus finding, perhaps uncon- 
sciously, a freemasonry in his most casual meetings 
with a woman who has passed through similar phases 
of life. His knowledge of women in the past assisted 
his knowledge of women in the present. 

"That's very kind of you," she answered with her 
sudden flashing smile, "but we're very comfy. The 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



22 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

house is in excellent repair and quite up-to-date in 
essentials. I don't mind telling you I shouldn't have 
taken it otherwise. The domestic situation is far too 
strained to admit of water carriers or lamp cleaners. 
Every labor-saving contrivance helps in these modem 
times." 

He nodded comprdiendingly. "Yes! I felt that 
when I put in the baths and electricity. I didn't wanU 
Little Glentworth to remain empty. I'm glad you like 
the old place.'* 

"I adore the old-fashioned non-essentials, Major 
Carlton." 

He turned his head and looked round the walls, 
that slow smile dawning on his face. He was back for 
the moment in his boyhood. His surroundings exhaled 
upon his spirit the atmosphere of a past generation. 

"You'll like most of the neighbors," he told her. 
"Some of ^them may go a bit slow for the times we 
live in, but take them all round they're not a bad lot, 
and we're all on good terms." 

"I've met a neighbor already, and I want to hear 
more of her. We traveled down from town together. 
She's a Miss Thorne, a niece of Mr. Thorpe of the 
Lake House." 

"Oh! Old Thorpe!" Carlton laughed drily. "You 
won't like him. That's to say if you ever meet him, 
which is extremely unlikely. He's a most peculiar 
old chap, mad of course, who owns one of the finest 
black and white timbered houses in England. He 
inherited it from a cousin, and though I believe he's 
absolutely rolling he lives like a pauper. So, a niece 
of his has arrived ! It's the first time I've ever heard 
of any one staying at the Lake House. What's she 
like? I'm sorry for her." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 23 

"An interesting-looking girl and a lady. Very fair, 
and quiet in manner. She's a governess, and now she's 
having a holiday." 

"Lor ! What a place to spend a holiday in," laughed 
Carlton. 

"Let us form a conspiracy to make it a pleasant one 
for her," suggested Mrs. Davenant. 

Major Carlton looked incredulous. **Why! you 
don't know what old Thorpe is," he exclaimed, "he 
won't allow any of us to cross his threshold. We've 
all had notice to keep our distance. Not that any of 
us want to beard the old idiot in his den, but when he 
first went into ifesidence wje offered him the usual 
neighborly attentions. He accepted those civilly 
enough, then there came a sudden change in his atti- 
tude. I did hear he had some sort of illness ; an3nvay 
he changed utterly, and all of a sudden, and now he's 
never seen or heard of, and his door's closed to all and 
sundry." 

Mrs. Davenant was listening very attentively, her 
deep blue eyes fixed on the speaker. 

"That's all very interesting and very mysterious," 
she said. "One would like to fathom the reason for 
the sudden change, for, of course, there is a reason." 

"The only reason is that Thorpe's a mad old ass," 
commented Carlton a trifle impatienfly. 

"Forgive my saying that shows rather a lack of 
imagination on your part, Major Carlton. However, 
what you've told me only confirms my determination 
to dig out Miss Thome. Her uncle can't prevent her 
from crossing this threshold. I shall write to her to- 
night and ask her to lunch. Perhaps Mr. Thorpe 
will leave her all his money and she'll end a great 
heiress." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



24 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Carlton was listening with a sort of unwilling 
admiration. He liked her interest in the poor little 
governess, but old Thorpe as a subject of conversa- 
tion bored him. He shook his head. 

"There's an heir already on which the place is 
entailed. I've not seen him, but I've heard of him 
in the neighborhood. A man somewhere between 
twenty-five and thirty, unmarried, an engineer by 
profession, and a Thorpe by name. You're right about 
my not being an imaginative chap, that isn't my line, 
but you'll be able to exercise any imagination youVe 
got, for you'll hear the wildest rumors about the 
Lake House. It's got a splendid Christmas num- 
ber reputation for being alive with ghosts. Half 
the folk here would refuse to set foot within its gates, 
the other half are simply aching to begin investigations, 
but old Thorpe can be trusted to keep them all at 
bay." 

*T know which side I'll join," Mrs. Davenant told 
him, and her eyes had a dancing sparkle. "I'm for 
investigation. Meanwhile I'll write to the girl, and 
find out if she's had any weird experiences. Now do 
tell me of the other neighbors." 

"We are your nearest and I hope we'll see lots of 
you, Mrs. Davenant. Don't let's stand on ceremony, 
there's nothing stiff about us, and I hope you'll look in 
as often as you can. My mother's a busy woman, but 
she's never very far away from the stables, and she's 
nearly always in to tea. It'll cheer her up to see you. 
Then there's Parson Warburton, a rattling good chap, 
whose sister lives with him at the vicarage, and there's 
the Halls, he's Master. You ride, of course?" 

"No," confessed Mrs. Davenant, "not now, but 
I'll keep a mount in the stables for any friend." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 25 

"That's right. Nothing like encouraging local sport. 
Hall's a first-rate Master, and Mrs. Hall's not to be 
despised across country, hard as nails and any amount 
of pluck. They're a young couple with a brace of 
kids. She's an American with a pile made out of lin- 
seed, and she's very good to Jim." 

Mrs. Davenant's butler at that moment opened the 
door and announced "Captain and Mrs. Hall." 

Carlton rose to his feet with a laugh. "By Jove, 
talk of angels and they're sure to appear. You're 
going to have the whole county down on you." 

Mrs. Davenant glanced over her shoulder at him 
with one of her flashing smiles. It was her gaiety that 
up to now had impressed him most. 

"The more the merrier. How do you do, Mrs. 
Hall. Major Carlton was just telling me what a flyer 
you are across country." 

"The Master's wife's got to have a look-in some- 
where, or she'll find herself nowhere," retorted Mrs. 
Hall practically, "besides, I've had to keep the pack 
together more or less whilst he was soldiering." 

"Hullo, Jim!" "Hullo, Claudie!" remarked the 
two men, smiling broadly at one another, each vastly 
comforted by the presence of the other. 

Saidie Hall seated herself beside Mrs. Davenant, 
crossed her exquisite little feet, and her white-gloved 
hands over a jeweled lorgnette, and opened huge black 
eyes upon her companion. She had not been born 
good looking, but she had achieved good looks. 

"I've just been perishing to see you, Mrs. Davenant. 
I've heard so much about you." 

"I shan't reply with the obvious," laughed Hilda. 
"I thinJc it kind of you to come and see me so soon. 
That's how I feel about it. Isn't paying calls in the 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



26 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

country different to calling in London? There, the 
dread is that the lady'll be at home. Here, the dread 
is she'll be out." 

'That's only because in town there are so many 
tea shops," retorted Saidie Hall briskly. "At Ter- 
lingham, that's our place, every one who calls is offered 
tea whether I'm out or in. The country's a very 
fatiguing place to live in." 

"I should have said the reverse," smiled Mrs. 
Davenant. "I've come here to rest. I'm tired of 
town and its rush." 

Mrs. Hall looked astonished. "Why," she cried, 
"what happens directly I come back to Terlingham 
after a holiday abroad or in town? Constant streams 
of visitors, from the vicar to the village blacksmith, 
and all wanting something. Teas, treats, clothing, 
subscriptions, giving prizes, opening bazaars, mothers' 
meetings and local clubs. My life here is one long 
sacrifice." 

"Come, now, and have some tea. We have it in 
the morning-room. I love to sit round tea of the 
nursery order, don't you?" laughed Mrs. Davenant. 
"Will you lead the way you know so well?" she added, 
turning to Mrs. Carlton. 

"By Jove ! how ripping the old place looks ! I haven't 
been in it for years," 3aid Captain Hall, who had 
maneuvred himself into a seat next his hostess. "I'm 
not sure I don't prefer it to Great Glentworth. A big 
house isn't all beer and skittles, even if you have got 
lots of the needful to keep it up." 

Hall was a neat, small man, built like a jockey; 
clean shaven and in feature almost effeminate, but 
there was nothing feminine in his nature. He glanced 
round approvingly at the faded rep curtains, the old 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 27 

dumb waiters and the sideboard, on whose shining 
mahogany Georgian silver shone. He considered 
Saidie's taste was much too French. She had packed 
several lumber rooms with all the grand old wine 
coolers and clawlegged tables she could collect, and sub- 
stituted what he called "spindle-legged foreign trash." 
Now he looked enviously at the dark red walls clothed 
with the old-fashioned flock paper, at the few old 
family portraits shining out of heavy carved frames, 
and the tea table with its bright-colored Crown Derby 
and dainty edibles. All contributed to touch him with 
many subtle associations, and Mrs. Davenant herself 
seemed to fit the period. She might have stepped out 
of a Romney portrait, in her soft white chiffon frock, 
belted with blue, the blush roses at her breast, and 
the richly piled dark brown hair framing her delicately 
tinted face. 

"A real beauty and no mistake," thought the cap- 
tain. Aloud he said, "The old squire used to call this 
the Red Parlor . Lady Alicia — ^she was his wife — ^used 
to sit in it. I can see her now, though I was a mere 
kid at the time, seated by the window sewing. She's 
been dead for the last twenty-five years at least. Do 
you play bridge, Mrs. Davenant?" 

She shook her head. "No, I don't, but Miss Howard 
does. You may rope her in if you like. The fact is, 
Captain Hall, I don't do anything." 

"You seem to do nothing jolly well. I suppose we 
are rather a busy lot hereabouts. An3rway we were 
busy before the war, and we're beginning to be busy 
again, I'm glad to say. When hunting's off there'll 
be a bit of season to get through. My wife enjoys her 
theaters and dances. Then there's the shooting and 
the cubbing season on before one's time to turn round. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



28 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

I believe in lots of work; keeps a man fit, don't you 
think? Carlton's a busy chap, too, always about when 
he's on leave. Great Glentworth takes a bit of looking 
after." 

Miss Howard was pouring out tea at the other end 
of the table, and the rest of the party were chattering 
together very vigorously. Under cover of their con- 
versation Mrs. Davenant lowered her voice and leaned 
towards her companion. 

"I rather wonder Major Carlton let Little Glent- 
worth. It's the Dower House, isn't it? Why, it 
might be needed any day." 

Captain Hall thought a moment. He had not caught 
the drift of the remark. 

"Oh 1 1 twig now. Why, of course. I hadn't thought 
of that, but Claudie don't seem in any hurry to make 
up his mind." 

"Falling in love isn't making up your mind, it's 
having your mind made up for you. Captain Hall." 

The Master again pondered this proposition. "By 
Jove! I believe you're right. What a clever lady 
you are!" he conceded admiringly, and involuntarily 
he glanced at his wife with a broad smile. "Takes 
you all of a heap, you mean?" 

"If you like to put it that way. I think falling 
in love's the best occupation there is for both women 
and men. As a matter of fact if we want to develop 
the best in us, we ought always to be in love with 
some one. Love is so progressive, so educative." 

The Captain opened his blue eyes, and instinctively 
there shot into them a question he had almost forgotten 
how to ask since he married his Saidie and went to the 
war. Formerly he had not troubled to be sure of his 
ground. If knocked down he knew how to get up again. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 29 

Now he was more wary. Was it possible that Mrs. 
Davenant was out for adventure ? He met her dancing 
eyes; then he knew where he stood. "Straight as a 
die. Right as rain," was his swift conclusion. 

"I'm with you. Yes, rather! Keeps us out of 
mischief. Yet falling in love is sometimes rather 
dangerous," he ended with a reversion to caution. 

"All fascinating pursuits are dangerous. They 
wouldn't be fascinating if they weren't," retorted Mrs. 
Davenant 

1 As the Master met her eyes, he felt in sudden need 
of assistance. 

"Hear that, old chap?" he exclaimed, turning to 
Carlton, who had fallen into silence beside Mrs. Hall. 
"Mrs. Davenant thinks the best occupation for us is 
falling in love." 

"You're out of the running, Jim," chaffed Claude 
with his slow smile. 

"Captain Hall has localized my remark. I spoke 
in generalities," she retorted. "Love's a joy we're 
all the better for. It's a poor life that's lived without 
it. That's what I tried to infer." 

"You seem to have hit on a rather intimate sort 
of topic," suggested Saidie whimsically, 

"Love is the commonest topic, bar one, in the 
world," retorted Mrs. Davenant coolly, as she took a 
cigarette from the box in front of her. 

"And what is the commonest topic of all?" asked 
Saidie. 

I "Hate! Do you smoke, Mrs. Hall? Pass round 
the box, please. Major Carlton, and don't think me 
ridiculously old-fashioned." 

"I think there's much less falling in love now than 
.there was in my young days. Men have grown so 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



30 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

selfish/' said ,Mrs. Carlton, hunting one capacious 
pocket after another for cigarettes and matches. 

Mrs. Davenant shook her head gently, as she rose. 
Her smile was almost regretful, and her shining eyes 
looked dreamy and full of reminiscence. 

"I simply adore men," she said. 

"That was my grandfather." Qaude felt compelled 
to throw into the pool of silence something blatantly 
unemotional. It was not what he wanted to say, but 
it was the first idiotic remark that floated through his 
brain. He turned his back upon every one. He felt 
a shyness he could not understand and pointed to a 
portrait of a man of about twenty-five, clad in a 
jocl^ey's dress and about to mount a sleek and well- 
bred horse. His hand was on the reins, but his face 
was turned round to the spectators as though giving 
some final order before he set out 

Mrs. Davenant stood by Carlton's side, and looked 
up at the picture. She seemed to speak quite mechani- 
cally. 

"I love those old-fashioned portraits of squires with 
their favorite mounts." 

"That was his famous mare that won so many 
steeplechases. She realized four thousand pounds in 
stakes in one year, though she cost my grandfather 
thrice that sum in lost wagers. H^ backed her against 
anything. She was a clinker, and though, as you see, 
she'd one white stocking which was thought a blemish, 
he'd never allow she wasn't perfect. She'd a box and 
paddock to herself, and a couple of grooms to wait on 
her, and during one very hard winter he had a straw- 
yard roofed in for her, so that she might exercise 
under cover." 

"She broke his neck for him. However, it's the 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 31 

death he would have chosen/' remarked Mrs. Carlton 
grimly. "Do you use the room we call the Squire's 
den? It's hardly suitable for a woman." 

Mrs. Davenant walked to the end of the room and 
threw open a door; Carlton followed her. 

It was a cosy little den, decorated after the family 
fashion with portraits of horse and hound, the posses- 
sion of which had at various periods dignified the 
Carlton race. Stuffed fish of portentous size that 
had fallen victims to rod and landing net decorated 
the walls. The bell ropes were foxes' brushes, and on 
the mantelshelf was a mighty drinking horn with 
silver rim, the contents of which Carlton's ancestors 
had been wont to empty at a draught before being 
helped to bed. The window looked out on a fine old 
stone court. Perhaps it was of all the rooms in the 
house the one most redolent of the family fragrance, 
and when Claude walked in a crowd of memories 
rushed forth to greet him, memories which although 
hardly hallowed had a certain impressiveness. All 
those jolly sportsmen, dicers and drinkers, that he had 
so often heard of had been his kith and kin, and were 
now dead, though their memories seemed ever green. 

"It was in this room I smoked my first cigarette," 
he said, with a slow smile of recollection. "Lor ! how 
ill I was after! And one of my earliest interests was in 
that old print of the prize fight. That old boy is Old 
Q. at ninety years of age. I'd like to take just a turn 
round the garden if it won't bore you too much. I've 
got such ripping recollections of the gardens here. In 
summer and autumn there was always a jolly scent of 
thyme and old-fashioned flowers; a fine old English 
aroma of sweet smells, and a bee hum and murmur 
from morning to night in the lime walks leading to 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



32 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

the river. Do you keep this door locked ?*' He pointed 
to a heavy curtain. 

"On the inside.'" She was listening to him in a 
curious meditative melancholy; her voice was almost 
somber, but she slipped behind the curtain and in 
another moment they stood outside together. 

"I say! Don't you want a hat or something?" 

Her gay air returned suddenly. 

"Not I. Let us stroll down the lime walk and 
listen to the bees humming." 

At first their conversation consisted of inevitable 
commonplaces, but he was receiving new impressions 
of her which had nothing to do with what they said. 

The sun blinds had been down outside tie rooms 
they had been in, and he had not noted that her skin 
was free from the least trace of cosmetics, yet it had 
the fresh and delicate tints of a girl's complexion. 
Her dress also, now that he saw it in the full sunset 
splendor flaming in the west, roused in him a new 
train of thoughts, that in the last few years he had 
almost forgotten. Small details in it for which he had 
no name, brought whiffs of Monte Carlo and Nice, 
casinos and moonlit terraces. 

But such thoughts were blent with others of a 
different order. There was something tragic in her 
face. A shadow seemed always to lie under the sur- 
face of her gay light-heartedness, and the expression 
of her eyes was sometimes somber even when her lips 
smiled. 

"I'm glad you wished to come out into this heaven- 
bom evening," she said. "I think I was beginning to 
feel a little shy." 

He glanced quickly round at her with a trace of 
astonishment. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 33 

"That is the last failing I should have accused you 
of. You appear to me to be a perfect woman of the 
world." 

There was a little sparkle between her eyelashes as 
she answered in her sunny voice. 

"Not of your world, Major Carlton. I am shy of 
country life just as I am shy of church." 

"But not, I trust, of me?" he retorted quickly, 
watching her down-dropped head. 

"No, but then you are different. Fm at home with 
you, because you've known lives somewhat similar to 
mine. Men's lives." 

Her face grew full of memories, the fibers of her 
nature seemed unstrung. He watched her puzzled 
and fascinated. What did she mean? He hardly 
knew what to make of her. 

"I'm glad we've got something in common," he 
said rather gravely, "though I don't know that men's 
lives, even the best of them, are up to much. I fear 
you place us on too high a pedestal. More is always 
expected of women than of men." 

He was thinking now of her words "I adore men." 
He saw her shoulders shrug. 

"Oh ! not now so much as formerly. Men are fairer 
now to women. They do begin to acknowledge that 
human nature is similar in both sexes. You do 
permit us to own up to the same passions with which 
you are liberally endowed." 

Their eyes met and he was conscious of an undefined 
intimacy. They fell to a sudden silence as they strolled 
together with slow paces, their feet rustling amongst 
the brown leaves of the previous year. 

It was a day when the beauty of nature made itself 
felt like tender music that yet had no sound. The air 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



34 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

was warm and fragrant, and of ethereal clearness 
which draped the landscape in the softness of velvet. 
The old grassy street through which they walked was 
arched by giant limes, and beneath their emerald arches 
shot slanting sunbeams. At the end of the green all^, 
flashing in the sheen of sunset, flowed the river, but 
even as they walked, like the sigh of a spirit, swept 
from out the west the first intimation of waning light, 
of the mysteries of coming darkness. 

"Listen to the humming of the bees." 

They both stood still and listened to the wonderful 
volume of sound, like a grand rhythm of praise rising 
up to the illuminated heavens. 

"Isn't it ripping to be away from all the infernal 
botherations of ordinary life?" he asked involuntarily. 

She looked at him in silence. She wondered how 
he contrived when he chose to drop ordinary life by 
the wayside. She had found it impossible to do so. 

"I shan't forget this evening in the lime walk." 
His voice dropped almost to softness as he quoted: 

"It may be it shall please you to remember 
Those silver stems, this shadowy woodland way* 
To think upon one sun-perfumed September 

Perchance — some day." 

"Do you know the lines? They are Watson's. The 
British army discovered poetry in 1914." 

She kept her eyes upon his face. Everything else 
seemed to have stopped except the action and influence 
of two souls, one upon the other. 

"And this is what I was thinking," she almost whis- 
pered : 

"And in that forest synagogue 
Whose aisles are paved with bloom and sod, 
A broken heart may haply find 
The tenderness of God." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LADIES OF LITTLE GLENTWORTH 35 

He withdrew his eyes from hers and stared straight 
before him, as if he had not heard her. A little frown 
had gathered on his brow, and he felt unaccountably 
stirred. He had learned to love poetry for its own 
sake, not for the emotions it could arouse. He was not 
given to feeling emotional. He hated the word, and 
thought he despised such feelings. A vague irrita- 
tion stirred him. 

"Come! I must be returning," he said, glancing 
at his watch. "It's getting late." 

From the distance came the faint sounds of voices 
and happy laughter. 

"Yes," she echoed, "it is getting late." 

They turned with one accord. As they retraced 
their footsteps they were silent. "It is getting late." 
The simple words took on another significance in 
Claude^s mind. 

Was he letting time run on and life slip away from 
him before he had realized what it held? Her words 
assumed a warning. It was getting late. Soon it 
might be too late. His thirtieth birthday was an hour 
in the past 

"Come along, Qaudie. We must be getting back. 
The roans have got the fidgets and are digging graves 
in the gravel." 

Mrs. Carlton with her single eyeglass firmly fixed, 
and her Homburg hat cocked at the correct angle, 
stood by her horses. She shook hands genially with 
her hostess and gathered up the ribbons preparatory 
to mounting the high mail phaeton. 

"Hope to see you soon at our place, Mrs. Davenant. 
So long, Jim, we meet to-morrow for a day in the 
stubbles," she called out from aloft, giving a loose 
rein to the roans who were poised on their hind legs 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



36 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

ready to spring forward. The gravel spurted in show- 
ers, another moment and the carriage had disappeared, 
only the fast even trot of the roans racing home to 
their evening feed was borne back to the onlookers. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER IVi 
suspiaoN 

MRS. DAVENANT'S simple avowal of her 
adoration of men produced a strong and last- 
ing effect upon her select little audience. Indeed, it 
may be said to have supplied the keynote to the 
county^s understanding of her individuality. Such 
remarks have a way of their own in spreading broad- 
cast. This particular remark was like a pebble dropped 
in a pool. It sunk to hard bottom and sent out rip- 
ples towards the shores where crouch the harpies who 
batten on human wreckage. Those three simple little 
words became the pivot round which swung public 
opinion. 

As the Carltons drove home they were at first very 
silent, both minds engrossed with the same conundrum. 

''What did those words mean?" Mrs. Carlton asked 
herself. What did they portend? They seemed to 
stand out in letters of fire and obliterate all other im- 
pressions. Was it merely a silly pose, or a throwing 
down the gauntlet of defiance in the face of the coun- 
ty, or again was it nothing more than the innocent 
admission of a very simple woman? 

Mrs. Carlton reflectively stroked the backs of the 
roans with her whip, then she shot a sidelong glance 
at her son, who appeared to have fallen into a brown 
study. Was Mabel Tadcaster right? Was Mrs. 

37 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



38 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Davenant very attractive to men? Undoubtedly! 
Conviction clutched at Mrs. Carlton's heart. What 
better means to emphasize her attractiveness could 
she have taken than in uttering those words, *'I adore 
men," and of course it was a stock phrase she used 
imiversally. 

Certainly myriads of women adored men. Why 
shouldn't they? But they didn't say it. Or, here lay 
the core of the matter, if they did say it they didn't 
look like that when they said it. 
I Mrs. Carlton rather irritably flicked off a fly from 
the near roan's back, and the "thanks awfully" of 
the pair roused Claude. 

"Rather jolly women, don't you think? I like 'em 
both." 

The mother detected just the faintest tinge of 
anxiety in her son's voice. She hastened to allay it. 

"Yes, so do I, immensely. They're a decided ac- 
quisition to the neighborhood, and how good-looking 
they both are." 

• Now there was distinct relief in Claude's happy 
little laugh. 

"By Jove! aren't they, and so well turned out, I 
like to see a woman very simply dressed in the coun- 
try, and I like Mrs. Davenant particularly. She's so 
simple in herself." 

Mrs. Carlton winked her off eye and let her monocle 
drop. 

**Yes ! isn't she, perfectly simple. Refreshing, isn't 
it? That little remark about adoring men was de- 
licious. Why shouldn't she adore men? I've always 
loved 'em. We'll agree on that point, anyway." 

Captain and Mrs. Hall did not discuss the situation 
on the way home, for the simple reason that the Master 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SUSPICION 39 

insisted on driving his own car, a thing he very rarely 
did, having a profound contempt for man-made modes 
of locomotion. Saidie never drove in anything that 
had not a limousine top. The weather was never 
right for an open car. The sun was either too hot and 
the dust too thick, or the wind was too cold and the 
mud too liquid. She never permitted herself to be 
blown about in any other attire than in strictly ortho- 
dox riding kit, which so transformed her naturally 
elaborate appearance that she constantly escaped rec- 
ognition. Indeed, she was generally known in the field 
by the horses she rode. 

"That's the Master's high-flyer. Mrs. Hall must 
be up," was a common enough remark heard at cover- 
side. 

At dinner Captain Hall was well aware that Mrs. 
Davenant would be "threshed out," and he appeared 
at the table in a very cheerful and conciliatory mood. 

"Well, Saidie! What's your paddock final on the 
ladies at Little Glentworth?" he inquired, dashing at 
once into the thick of things. 

"What's yours ?" retorted his wife pertly. 

Jim was in no way disconcerted. "Oh! I fancy 
they're all right so far as one can judge, but a woman 
tmderstands those sort of things better than a man, 
I always think." 

His voice was careless and slightly patronizing, and 
he did not specify what "those sort of things" were. 
He left that to the imagination. 

"Did you notice her pearls? They were real, and 
if there was one there were fifty; only half the rope 
showed, the rest was tucked inside her gown." 

"Pearls! Whose pearls?" inquired the Master, rais- 
ing his boyish, innocent face. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



40 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"Mrs. Davenant's, of course. I can't quite get to 
rock bottom of her. Is she very deep or very shallow?" 

Jim Hall knew perfectly what was in his wife's 
mind. Those three little words, "I adore men." Well I 
no doubt the compliment was returned with compound 
interest. She was a stunning beauty and a rattling 
good sort. He was sorry she didn't ride. There were 
so many little opportunities of being civil to women in 
the field, in which a Master could indulge with perfect 
circumspection. However, there might be other oppor- 
tunities. 

"Rather soon to form any definite conclusions on 
that point," he answered airily. "Miss Howard's a 
fine specimen of a 'has been.' Wonder why she never 
married." 

"I wonder why Mrs. Davenant never re-married." 

"Once bitten, twice shy," observed Jim foolishly. 

"That proverb never applied to any living soul over 
ten years old," retorted Saidie with conviction. "When 
a woman's made a bad shot she always wants to re- 
cover her losses. It's like playing at Monte. You 
know how we always try to get back. If I make a 
good shot I always want to double it. Another thing, 
women are getting so much like men, nowadays. 
They like variety." 

"Oh! my dear!" expostulated the Master. 

Saidie laughed widcedly. "Well! don't men take 
what they like? No, there's some other reason why 
Mrs. Davenant remains a widow. When a man doesn't 
marry it's because he's waiting for some other 
man to die, and when a woman doesn't marry it's 
because she's waiting for some other woman to snuiBF. 
It doesn't always come off, of course. It's a pure 
gamble." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SUSPICION 41 

"To which time has much to say," put in the Master 
jauntily. 

"Oh, no, my dear. Age is merely a question of 
mental outlook," his wife assured him, "and really 
if a woman makes a mistake in her second husband she 
doesn't deserve to have lost her first." 

Thinking the matter over in bed that night, Jim 
came to the conclusion that Saidie had been very non- 
committal over the ladies of Little Glentworth. He 
was hanged if he knew what she thought of them, 
but he made up his mind he'd call in on his way home 
from shooting on the morrow, and offer his services 
to Mrs. Davenant over the matter of hunters. Poor 
things, they had no man in the house, and it would 
be neighborly to do what he could. He had picked 
up one or two quite decent mounts since his return. 

When Hilda Davenant and Agnes Howard found 
themselves once more alone that evening, a change 
crept over them both. That flashing smile, that gay 
air of content vanished, and the lovely face of Mrs. 
Davenant grew almost somber. 

The sunset hour was passed, and the fading light 
in the shadowy room seemed to reflect its pale melan- 
choly on her thoughtful features. It was very quiet, 
the world seemed already to fold its hands in slumber. 
It was the hour which brought to Hilda Davenant 
revolt, not peace. 

"Nice people, nice kindly disposed people," she 
soliloquized, and her low voice was a little tremulous. 
"What a t)^ apart they are, those country-bred folk 
with generations of fine tradition behind them. They 
are really the only gentle-people left in England, and 
they'll die hard. The war has simply passed over their 
heads." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



42 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Miss Howard was lighting a cigarette. She looked 
curiously at the idle attitude of her companion, half 
reclining on the sofa, her hands clasped behind her 
head. 

"Don't forget that they and their retainers poured 
out their blood like water in the war/' she demurred. 
"Isn't it natural that they desire to revert to 1914? 
I always felt sure they would. We were told there 
would be an end to men-servants. All that survive 
are back again in their old places. There were to be 
no more men selling ribbons and laces. Every shop 
swarms with them again, and never were there so many 
motor-cars on the roads. Britain's one desire is to 
forget the war, to jazz it out of their minds and revert 
to pre-war conditions. Personally I think they are 
wise. There's a deal of wisdom in the saying, 'Let's 
eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die.' Those 
who condemn it are those who can't follow it.'* 

Hilda seemed to be following the bent of her own 
thoughts rather than listening to her companion. 

"What wonderful revelations there are in a woman's 
face ! Life writes its biography there, and every face 
is a history in the making. The open street is a gallery 
telling the history of the noble and the mean, the sad 
and the joyous. What a smart, good-looking woman 
Mrs. Carlton is. A regular masher!" 

"Just what she isn't, my dear," retorted Miss 
Howard. "That get-up is only a signboard marked 
'No road this way.' Once she must have been a 
wonderfully pretty woman. When she was widowed 
I guess she adopted that dress to save trouble. She 
didn't want to marry again. She had her precious 
only son." 

Hilda gravely considered the subject for a moment 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SUSPICION 43 

'The interesting point about mascuKne women is 
that it's impossible to imagine they ever were young. 
Effeminate men never seem to age." 

Agnes laughed. "Yet Mrs, Carlton' was once young 
and was made love to. She's actually given birth to 
a male child." 

Hilda looked round. Her face was quite serious 
and deeply interested. 

"It does seem preposterous, almost indecent, and 
what a blessing the boy wasn't a girl. Now I could 
imagine her laying an egg, as is the independent habit 
of some mateless fowls. But a son ! and such a son ! 
I'm sure her first question was *colt or filly, doctor?' " 

"How can you be so flippant," expostulated Miss 
Howard. "So you do admire the son?" 

"I admire them both immensely. If there was 
such a thing, which there isn't, I'd say he was a 
thoroughly English type, whose entire character rests 
on the noiseless conviction that he's a man and a 
gentleman." 

"A sort of John Bull?" 

Hilda shook her head. "No, J. B. belongs to the 
lower middle classes. He's a son of the soil. Major 
Carlton is very much Lord of the Manor, and he actu- 
ally quoted poetry to me which wasn't Kipling. If I 
were writing a novel I'd make him fall madly in love 
with the beautiful mysterious widow. I'd love him 
passionately, divinely, and utterly blast his career by 
producing a husband who for years has been confined 
in a mad-house. I've often thought I'd write a novel 
on my own life, not that there would be much novelty 
in it except it's truth." 

"You'd be quite safe. No one would believe it." 

"No," replied Hilda gravely. "You've got to im- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



44 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

agine something quite inhuman if you want the critics 
to cry *How true to life/ A? if an3rthing was ever 
true to life! Life's as divergent as the human face, — 
out of countless millions, no two alike. Have you 
run across the parson yet?'* 

"The parson!" echoed Agnes in a bewildered tone. 

Hilda waved an impatient hand. "Yes! the par- 
son. How could there not be a parson in a scene like 
this? Why, he's as necessary to the picture as the 
village pond, and the ducks in the middle that stand 
on their heads, and the geese who are always so 
rude to strangers. I shall cultivate the parson." 

"Perhaps he won't be cultivated," suggested 
Agnes. 

"That won't matter or alter my determination. The 
very word cultivate means taking trouble and strict 
attention to detail. What's he like?" 

"One whom it would pay to cultivate. A splendid 
variety, Hilda, but don't overdo it." 

"My dear, if one means to do a thing then either 
do it thoroughly or leave it alone. By the way, where 
is that silver-bound prayer-book of mine, with the 
long chain that hangs on the arm ? I shall use it every 
Sunday. I wonder if Major Carlton and the Master 
go to church and pray into their hats in the good old- 
fashioned way. I liked both these men. They're the 
clean-bred country type that has a real standard to 
live by. I sometimes think it's really rather wonderful 
how we get on so well in our manless existence." 

"We get on all right without men because we've 
got to," retorted Agnes dogmatically. 

"I fail to see the necessity." Mrs. Davenant's voice 
was dry. "We are really a triumph of art over nature, 
but sometimes I think we're rather foolish not to take 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SUSPICION 45 

some of the very tempting things that come along. 
Other women would/* 

"Granted We may be foolish to have no entangle- 
ments, but remember it means freedom. It's better 
to live alone than in company with some solid facts 
I could mention. What a woman of moods you are. 
You were so gay and alluring this afternoon, and 
now you are so inconsistent." 

Mrs. Davenant shrugged. "Only the dead are 
consistent, and when one is either very happy, very 
miserable, or deeply in love, one has to be superlatively 
silly. I'm in that sort of humor that I could fall in 
love in a station waiting-room." 

Miss Howard was accustomed to Hilda's whimsies. 
"You're old enough to know better," she laughed. 

"Women are never any age till they cease to matter," 
she retorted, "and that's what nursemaids say to three- 
year-old urchins who have got well astride a mud pie. 
I daresay I'm silly, but I'd rather be a foolish widow 
than a wise virgin, any day. I'd like the evening post 
to bring me a letter beginning, 'Dearest woman in the 
world.' " 

"I should have thought that by now your appetite 
for such epistles would have become somewhat jaded," 
retorted Agnes drily. 

Mrs. Davenant jumped up and walked to the win- 
dow, then she looked round. 

"You thought nothing of the sort, my dear, because 
you know as well as I do that there's no sound so 
enchanting as the crackle of a love letter inside your 
corsets. You know that to every right-minded woman 
a love letter is the best pick-me-up invented. It 
raises one^s soul above even such sordid details as bills 
and the water rate. If I was Postmaster-General I'd 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



46 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

institute a sacred delivery for love letters, and dress 
the postman like Cupid, with wings." 

"What would you do in a frost, Hilda?" 

*The supreme letter writer is the lover," continued 
Mrs. Davenant, scornful of the interruption. 

"IVe often heard that the most wonderful letters 
are written in lunatic asylums," persisted Agnes. 

"That's because the really sane people only are 
shut up. We who are at large are all mad on some 
things, and most of us on most things. Ah! how 
lovely it would be if I had a dearly beloved whom I 
knew was thinking of me and loving me from day to 
day. How heavenly to look forward to those hours 
when my lips would say all that my pen failed to 
express." 

"Do you feel lonely, Hilda?" 

Mrs. Davenant shook her head emphatically. "No, 
Fve never felt lonely because I've dared to live. I 
happen to be dead at present, but if ever I do feel 
lonely, why, I shall come to life again and begin to 
live afresh." 

"It's getting late for such adventures," observed 
Miss Howard drily. 

"It's getting late," echoed Hilda very gently, with 
reminiscence in her eyes; then she flung out suddenly 
and impatiently. "Ohf women might really have a 
much better time if they weren't so wedded to lost 
oppolrttmities." 

"And lost causes and half-forlorn hopes," put in 
Agnes quietly. "You said some little time ago that 
you'd finished with men, and that marriage was really 
throwing up the sponge and crying Peccavi." 

"Ah! that was in a fit of boredom over Tristram, 
or was it Fielding, I really forget. What I'm st;re I 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SUSPICION 47 

meant was that there is no bargaining with love. If 
a man isn't everything to a woman, then he's nothing. 
That's where I'm so handicapped. I dare not take 
everything which would include marriage." 

Agnes smiled rather bitterly. "Marriage is so con- 
stantly a prison to a man and a workhouse to a woman. 
She never really knows what work means till she mar- 
ries." 

"Let's go for a stroll," suggested Hilda. "You're 
in one of your love is a mere matter of liver* moods. 
Let us tramp it off." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER V 

THE NAMELESS FEAR 

"/^UEER sort of old place, ain't it, miss?" 

V: Letty Thome started, and turned round 
nervously at the sound of a human voice in the si- 
lent wood. All she saw was the old gnome-like 
gardener eating his dinner on a log of felled tim- 
ber. 

"Yes, it's a curious old place, but it might be very 
beautiful if it was properly kept up, and not allowed 
to fall into decay." 

The gnome nodded. "Most folks think the same. 
I've knowed it man and boy for fifty years, and my 
father knowed it longer before me, but he's gone and 
the old house is going after him." 

"You mean it's dropping to jMeces from neglect." 

The gnome wiped his clasp knife on his knee medi- 
tatively. 

"Aye, the house is going, and the fambly's gfoing. 
They're wore out. I've seen three squires and none 
of them bided long. There was Mr. Marmaduke 
Thorpe. Then came his son, Mark. A rare wild one 
he was, but as fine a man to look at as ever stepped, 
and now there's this one, Mr. Geoffrey Thorpe. A 
fambly's always on its last legs when it gets next heirs 
in distant cousins. There's but one left after squire, 
and he's single. Beggin' your pardon, I knows you're 

48 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE NAMELESS FEAR 49 

squire's niece, but you're only a woman, ye see, and 
squire, he won't last long. He's never been the same 
man since the fit he had." 

"I didn't know he ever had a fit. When was it?" 
inquired Letty suppressing an inclination to laugh at 
the gnome's reflections. 

"Oh! it must be nigh on seven years now, miss. 
He'd been out to dinner, and he's never been out to 
dinner since. He rose from his bed a changed man, 
and wouldn't have any one nigh him but Mrs. Greatrex. 
There must have been something queer happen. Maybe 
he saw the ghost, any way he was a changed man." 

"Have you ever seen the ghost?" inquired Letty, 
unconsciously dropping her voice. 

"No, miss. I've seen nothing worse than myself, 
but I'm riot going to go the length of saying there's 
nothing to see. Ghost or no ghost, there's summat 
wrongs summat not quite right about the Lake House. 
Maybe what I've not seen 'as been made up by what 
I've 'eard." 

Letty shivered. She had a sudden disinclination to 
pursue the subject. 

"It must be kind of lonely for you 'ere, miss, with 
nothing to talk to but Mrs. Greatrex. She ain't got 
so much conversation as Balaam's ass. Saving Mr. 
*Arry Thorpe, there's not a livin' soul ever sets foot 
in the Lake House, and 'e don't come very often 
They do say at the White Hart Vs expected shortly." 

"Oh, I manage to get on all right,*' replied Letty 
hastily, unconscious of a brilliant blush, "but of course 
it is lonely." 

Then she nodded pleasantly and walked on. 

The old man stared after her, "A thrush down the 
chimley this morning, which means a death," he 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



so THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

muttered, nodding his head in a satisfied manner; then 
he seated himself on the felled trunk. For a few 
moments the delightful anticipations uppermost in 
Lett/s mind were quenched in mental pictures of that 
night, seven years ago, when the strong man was 
stricken down suddenly, and his strength taken from 
hin;i forever. It was not strange that she had heard 
nothing of this before. Evidently Miss Fanny Thorpe 
had not known of it, and who would be likely to speak 
of it in that dumb house, where the very sound of her 
own voice was beginning to strike the girl with a 
spectral strangeness? 

She had discovered nothing concerning the ghost 
that was said to haunt the place. Yet in these first 
long days of her residence in the Lake House there 
had arisen, by degrees out of her solitude, a senseless 
dread of something to which she could give no 
name. 

It was a dread that followed her like a shadow 
through the passages, that hovered in the dark comers 
of the room, at night. Yet she could not explain, even 
to herself, what it was she feared. She knew that 
nervous fancies are apt to grow up in the brains of 
those who live in solitude, and she could detect in her 
uncle many evidences of secret troubles or weird 
hallucinations, but she had only dwelt a week under 
his roof, and it was early days for the demons of 
isolation to fasten on her. 

The reasoning powers with which she was liberally 
endowed forced her to confess that this shadow which 
haunted her had nothing in common with superstitious 
fears. Something hateful which impregnated the 
atmosphere roused an intangible back current of 
thought, and the grim forbidding silence of the woman 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE NAMELESS FEAR 51 

in the kitchen mingled significantly with it like a con- 
stant accompaniment. Not only at night, but in 
broad daylight her footsteps were dogged by some 
shadowy terror of a thing unseen but present, and it 
compelled her when walking about the house, or in 
the woods, to turn every now and then and stare behind 
her. In short it was the presence of something she 
could not understand, and having reasoned the matter 
out thus far it remained all she knew concerning it. 

She found her position a very strange one. She 
went and came as she chose. No one asked her where 
she had been or where she was going. No one con- 
sulted her convenience or opinion. She did as she 
pleased, and Sarah Greatrex ruled supreme. 

She had no idea how Geoffrey Thorpe spent his 
time. To her cheerful "Good morning," he responded 
with a curt nod, usually directed towards the table, 
and very rarely he would echo her salutation, and 
that was the extent of their daily intercourse. All 
her efforts towards natural conversation were thwarted 
'by indomitable silence. 

Her one joy in the day was the walk to the village 
post office, where she found a letter awaiting her. 
But for the comfort and solace of that daily gift of 
love, she would have found it very hard to remain 
amid such desolate surroundings. 

It touched her to see how the old post-mistress 
offered her a welcome, and encouraged her to sit down 
and rest awhile, and how the villagers coming in and 
out of the shop saluted her with a quiet sympathy in 
their attitude. 

It was quite clear to Letty that everybody in the 
neighborhood regarded her as an object for sincere 
pity, but no one ever mentioned the reason for this pity 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



52 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

in her hearing, and her sense of loyalty to her unde 
kept her silent on the subject of her loneliness. 

That evening, as she reentered the house the words 
of the old gardener recurred to her, and taking up her 
work she quietly seated herself by the window in the 
chair she had adopted on her arrival. 

Cautiously she watched her uncle, taking care that 
he should not become aware of her doing so. As usual 
he had not raised his eyes when she entered. He sat 
by the table, his papers littered in front of him. A 
pen was in his hand, but he did not use it. His back 
was towards the portrait and when anything startled 
him, and the slightest noise had that effect, he glanced 
swiftly back over his shoulder at it. The trick puzzled 
and fascinated Letty Thome, for when in the room 
she sensed in herself a strong impulse to do likewise. 
Purposely she seated herself where the portrait was not 
visible to her, but she never lost the consciousness of 
its dominating presence. 

The door opened suddenly, and the old man started 
violently and repeated the habit, yet it was only Mrs. * 
Greatrex who entered. 

She walked up to the mantelshelf where a purse 
lay, took out some silver and said, "for the gardener." 
As Letty lifted her eyes she met those of Sarah full. 
Her expression was strangely malignant, and it came 
to Letty that her smallest action was known to this 
strange, silent woman. 

The hours passed as usual, in silence. The silver 
dusk began to fall over fields and woodlands, and the 
owls and bats stole forth on silent wing. A more 
profound silence seemed to descend upon the old house 
with the sinking of the sun, and Geoffrey Thorpe sat 
motionless as if graven in stone. When the room was 



Digitized by 



Google 



THE NAMELESS FEAR 53 

veiled in darkness Sarah entered with the one lamp 
which she set upon the old man's table, and then came 
the simple supper of bread, cheese and beer. Letty 
had asked the housekeeper if she might have a lamp, 
and had been curtly told that there was not one avail- 
able, so directly after supper she went to her room with 
the customary "good night," so rarely responded to. 

To-night she thought again of the old gardener's 
words, "Maybe he saw the ghost" 

Somehow, Letty associated the ghost with the long 
dark gallery outside her doon She pictured it passing 
by there, slipping silently downstairs, and from thence 
out into the coppice, where Geoffrey Thorpe might 
have encountered it in the ghost's walk, that night 
seven years ago. 

Was it a male or female ghost? she wondered, then 
in half-fearful scorn at her own weakness she resolute- 
ly turned her mind from the haunting subject. She 
told herself that there was that in her life for which 
she had reason to be profoundly thankful. The future 
was really full of infinite joy and happiness, and at last, 
bathed in happy anticipation, she fell asleep. 

Later on something happened which was to 
banish slumber. 

It seemed to Letty Thorne as if she had been un- 
conscious for but a few moments, when she was broad 
awake again, listening intently to footsteps in the long 
gallery outside her door. They were stealthy, soft 
steps, as if fearful of detection. Then came a sound 
like a hand being quickly passed backwards and for- 
wards along the wall at the head of her bed, and a click 
which suggested a heavy key striking against a brass 
candlestick. 

For fully five minutes poor Letty lay bathed in a 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



54 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

cold sweat of pure fear, and her heart beat suffocatingly. 
Then her strong common-sense came to her aid. She 
took herself in hand and smiled at her own childish 
fears. Had not Geoffrey Thorpe a right to walk about 
his own house? Was not Sarah Greatrex free to 
move about where and when she pleased? 
1 Then, suddenly the clock in the village church tower 
struck two, and her fears leapt alive again. Instead 
of a few minutes she had been asleep for about three 
hours. Was it likely that the only two other occu- 
pants of the house would still be up? Even if they 
were what could they possibly be doing in the gallery 
at such an hour? Both Sarah and Mr. Thorpe occu- 
pied bedrooms in another part of the house. Letty 
had discovered that the gallery only led to her own 
room, and several of the others that were disused and 
shut up, and which were reached by a dark passage 
striking off at right angles from her door. The back 
of the house, looking on the flagged court and ghost 
walk beyond, was built in very irregular fashion, and 
there were several little winding staircases leading to 
rooms now crumbling to decay. She had considered 
the situation of the rooms lying beyond her own, and 
discovered that they must all necessarily look out on 
the copse where the ghost walk took its rise. Standing 
in the copse and looking back at the old house, she had 
noted that the windows of those rooms were all closed 
up, and apparently never opened, and several great- 
trees had been allowed to extend their branches, 
blocking up the window panes and spreading over 
portions of the roof. ' 

Two o'clock in the morning and alone, and life at 
the Lake House had not been calctdated to strengthen 
her, so far, against such thoughts as now assailed her. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE NAMELESS FEAR 55 

The shadows that lurked under the fine reasoning with 
which she strove to satisfy herself, gave the lie to their 
efficacy. 

Unsolved mysteries drifted through her mind, and 
she halted on the threshold of •problems that 'had never 
yet been«elucidated, and to the consideration of which 
both the timid and the daring bring a certain awe. 

At that hour she could not have truthfully affirmed 
a disbelief in the supernatural, though she might have 
done so in broad daylight. 

If, she argued now to herself, no such appearances 
were possible, how was it that from the remotest ages 
of man the very air around had been endued with a 
subtle power to threaten the living with the dread 
presence of the dead? The fact of her uncle's sudden 
change from prodigality to penuriousness had now 
become invested with a tragic interest, and somehow 
its mysterious cause was connected with her present 
fears. 

No further noise broke on her ear, save the scratch- 
ing of a mouse in the wainscot, and the hooting of the 
numerous owls that built and reared their young im- 
checked through the years. 

Counting the hours, Letty lay awake till a lovely 
dawn called to her to rise and shake off the nightmare 
dread of the Lake House. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER VI 

THE LOVERS 

"/^H ! Harry, I'm so indescribably happy/' Letty 
v^ raised her face from the tweed breast in which 
it had been buried. 

"Let me see, darling, how it looks to be indescribably 
happy." 

Harry Thorpe took her face between his hands, 
smiled into her eyes, then kissed her very long and 
tenderly. 

"Glad to see me, darling?" he asked in a hushed 
voice of utter contentment. 

"Words can't answer that question, Harry." 
"Lips can, Letty. No need for words." 
In a passion of love she surrendered herself to his 
embraces. Never had her lover been so dear to her, 
never had meeting been so precious to Letty as now, 
when her nerves were shaken and jarred by the pre- 
vious night's experience. Yet she dreaded speaking 
of those fears which, even in his presence, she could 
not wholly banish. Harry was nothing if not practical, 
he was so full of strong common sense that she felt 
heartily ashamed of her weakness. Added to which 
the Lake House would be, if all went well, their future 
home, and Letty was so alive to all its great possibil- 
ities as a delightful residence that she shrank from 
throwing upon it the smallest shadow. Harry loved it, 

56 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 57 

in spite of its gloom, for his imagination could readily 
picture what it might become under new ownership 
and she was intensely desirous of viewing the future 
through his eyes. 

"If only last night could be blotted out/' she 
thought miserably through her smiles. In one of his 
klaily letters Harry had announced his coming, and 
had arranged the place of meeting by the lake, where 
stood a half-ruined summer house. It was a desolate 
enough spot to all but lovers, who are or ought to be 
impervious to their surroundings, but Harry knew 
they would be quite undisturbed there. He was 
perfectly well aware that the place was shunned by 
all the countryside, but under the present circumstances^ 
that was a distinct advantage, and he could have his 
White Rose all to himself without fear of interruption. 
He was as loth to speak to Letty of the mystery^ 
attached to the place as she was loth to mention it: 
to him, and for similar reasons. He had known for 
some long time of the rumors, and that they were 
freely discussed in the village, but he treated them with 
a good-natured contempt, and attributed them to his 
kinsman's great eccentricities. 

The sheet of water, still called the lake, was now 
nothing more than a large pond. The ghost walk led 
straight to it through the thick wood tangled with 
undergrowth. The weeds had encroached upon the 
water year by year, there were deep portions still, and 
the thickly-wooded edges were boggy and treacherous 
to walk upon, but the side on which the summer-house 
stood was high ground and perfectly dry. 

With his arm about her they strolled along the edge 
of the water till they reached the dilapidated arbor, 
and seated there amidst crumbling wood, rank fungoid 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



S8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

growth, and blanketing moss. Letty looked out and 
diought how lovely it all was and how exquisite were 
the sky gleams of autumn sunshine that filtered 
through the branches and fell upon the water like 
golden javelins. 

"How long can you stay, Harry?" 

"I've only got a week, darling. I must set to 
work with a will, now I'm home. We'll spend, how- 
ever, every hour of it together that we can. Even if 
the old chap does discover how much we mean to each 
other I really don't care a hang.'* 

Alarm leapt into Letty's eyes. "Oh ! but he mustn't, 
Harry. You've no conception how he'd scoff and 
sneer at us. I couldn't bear it." 

Harry hugged her closer to him, "He can't part 
us, anyhow, and what would his sneers matter to us, 
sweetheart? Another year and I'll have saved enough 
to make a nest for my beloved arid we'll be married 
and live happily forever after. I'm not one of those 
chaps who are content to wait for dead men's shoes. 
I prefer my own energy, but I want you to love the 
Lake House, for if I survive Geoffrey Thorpe it will 
be our home, and we'd soon make it look very different 
to what it is now. It's the people who live within the 
walls who make or mar the home. Now, tell me how 
you're hitting it off with the old boy? Your letters 
are very non-commital." 

Letty raised a suddenly troubled face from the 
shoulder on which it rested. 

"Oh! Harry, darling, I'm not hitting it off. 
There's nothing to hit off. I might as well be the 
guest of a mummy that has been buried a thousand 
years. Both Mrs. Greatrex and Uncle are dumb crea- 
tures." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 59 

Harry laughed. "Why? Is not the old boy 
communicative? He must surely talk sometimes. I 
know he's beastly crusty, and he loathes the sight of 
me because I'm his heir and he's powerless to disin- 
herit me; and I've come through, but perhaps that's 
only natural. I'm coming to Itmch to-oky." 

"To lunch, Harry?" Letty gasped. "You don't 
mean to say he's invited you? How thrilling!" 

"No, I don't mean to go quite so far as that, 
darling," retorted Harry rather grimly. "I mean that 
I'm going to invite myself and see what happens. 
I'm not going to behave in any secret underhand* 
manner. The Lake House is still his property, and 
it's only right that he should know of my arrival, so 
I'm coming back with you to lunch. I'm rather in a 
blue funk. He'll be in a deuce of a rage, but it'll be 
rather fun to see how he takes it.'* 

"I'm not so sure that it'll be exactly fun, Harry.- 
There's nothing in the least funny about Uncle 
Geoffrey." 

"So you seem to think, darling, but I'm rather 
big for him to kick out, and I'm so happy to-day that 
I feel like bearding Beelzebub himself. Besides, it'll 
be a sort of satisfaction to get a rise out of that old 
hag, Sarah. If I live to inherit she'll go in double 
quick time." 

"But if we go back together, Harry, Uncle will 
wonder how we met and there will have to be ex- 
planations," demurred Letty. 

"Leave that to me, sweetheart. All you've got 
to do is to follow my lead. I must first of all see in 
what direction the wind blows." 

"It's always in the bleak north here, Harry." 

"Except at such moments as this." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



6o THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

He drew her close in tender sheltering arms. He 
noted her nervousness and longed to remove her from 
her uncongenial surroundings, but at present he was 
helpless, work as hard as he could. 

"My beloved," he whispered, "you look like a white 
rose to-day. Come, cheer up, and don't be so scared 
over nothing. Give me a kiss before we walk straight 
into the lion's jaws." 

As they neared the commencement of the Ghost's 
Walk leading out of the yard, they fell apart decorous- 
ly and into silence. He opened the gate for her, then 
deliberately closed it and followed her into the 
house. 

"Go straight into the lion's den," he whispered, 
"and don't forget I'm there to defend you." 

With a brave exterior, but with nervous trepidation 
which made her heart beat thickly, Letty obeyed her 
lover. 

The old man was seated in his usual chair, but his 
head was raised and his face, scared and blanched to 
the color of chalk, was turned defiantly to the door. 
He had heard the footsteps of a man accompanying 
his niece. Then, as Harry strode forward and seized 
his reluctant hand, his whole expression changed from 
abject fear to bitter sarcasm. 

"Harry Thorpe! To what do I owe this imex- 
pected honor?" 

Harry, having warmly wrung the hand he had 
seized, let it drop. 

"Oh I sir, you overwhelm me. I seek to confer no 
honor. Indeed, if you'll only believe it, I am the 
simplest chap going. I met Miss Thorpe when on 
my way to pay my respects to you, and naturally I 
guessed at once who she was. She's told me how 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 6i 

awfully kind your are to her and what a ripping time 
she's having and all that sort of thing, and knowing 
your hospitable nature I've come to ask for a bit of 
lunch/' 

"My niece did not invite you?" 

The words dropped like ice from the old man's 
parched lips. He was literally being consumed by the 
fires of his own fury, and his eyes blazed from out 
their sunken sockets like those of a wild animal. 

Harry had turned apparently quite at his ease and 
tossed his cap into a diair. Now he wheeled round 
again and his expression was smiling and guileless as 
that of a child. 

"Invite me, sir! Why, no," he laughed reproach- 
fully. "She knew I needed no invitation. Haven't 
you and I known each other for years and aren't we 
kinsmen ? How jolly well you look, sir. Been enjoy- 
ing this fine summer?" 

Mr. Thorpe made no reply to the question. He 
was choking with rage, and his voice was husky and 
quivering. 

"How long do you mean to stay?" 

"Oh ! I am in no hurry. The White Hart is most 
comfortable and every one's so jolly kind. It's really 
not such a bad world as some folk make out. Don't 
you find there really is a lot of kindness knocking about 
in unexpected places?" 

Geoffrey Thorpe turned petulantly aside as Sarah 
Greatrex entered, and Letty, who was consumed with 
suppressed merriment when she looked at Harry, and 
with actual fear when she looked at her uncle's face 
distorted with rage, seized the opportunity to make 
her escape. 

Mrs. Greatrex stalked aggressively forward, bris- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



62 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

tling with anger, and scowling at the intruder from 
under her shaggy brows. She was about to speak 
when Harry forestalled her. He bowed flippantly. 

"Morning! Ripping day, isn't it? The sort of 
day that makes you feel at peace with all the world, 
purifies the temper and kills the slugs. Mr. Thorpe 
has kindly asked me to stop to lunch, but Fd be vastly 
obliged if you'd draw me a tankard of ale straight 
away. Fm as thirsty as the Sahara. The bacon at 
the White Hart's as salt as Lot's wife. Or would 
you rather I saved you the trouble and drew it my- 
self?" 

He made a step towards the door, and the two 
pairs of eyes met as in a duel. Then the woman's 
eyes fell before the implacable, bright determination 
they encountered. Without a word she left the room 
to do his bidding. 

Harry sat down and fixed his young eyes upon the 
haggard face of his kinsman. The sun was moving 
westward. It poured into the old room through the 
western window, where the escutcheon of the family 
shone down in stained glass, and the name of "Thorpe" 
glowed in ancient lettering. Geoffrey Thorpe had 
lowered his head and was fumbling nervously amongst 
his papers. His clawlike hands shook like withered 
leaves, and betrayed strong emotion which Harry 
suspected to be anger. He glanced away and round 
the room, waiting for that anger to subside. "What a 
pitiful old age," he thought. "What has come to the 
I old man to make him look like that? He might be 
so happy if he'd let me look after him, and pull the 
old place together and arrest this awful decay. Is there 
something to hide, or is it a brain disorder?" Harry 
concluded it must be the latter. What could Geoffrey 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 63 

Thorpe have to hide? He could think of nothing, 
knowing all his circumstances. 

The walls of the room he sat in were paneled in 
diaper-patterned oak, and some fine pictures hung in 
places. They accorded ill, in their mellowed beauty, 
with the portrait hanging behind Geoffrey Thorpe's 
chair. Harry hated it. The furniture, bookcases 
choked with dust-laden volumes, and heavily carved 
chairs, were fine specimens dating from Jacobean days. 
A couple of richly carved chests gaped open, dis- 
gorging rolls of yellow parchment heavily sealed. 

"What a room for an antiquary to be let loose in/' 
thought Harry. 

Then Mrs. Greatrex entered carrying a foaming 
tankard of battered silver bearing the Thorpe 
coat. 

Harry rose and took it from her with a word of 
thanks, then, as the door closed behind her again, he 
turned to his kinsman. 

"Sir! Your very good health." 

There was no acknowledgment of the toast and 
Harry took a long draught. 

"By Jove! What ale!" he exclaimed; "it's nectar 
of the gods, drawn pure and cool straight from the 
cellar. The beer the outside world drinks now is sorry 
stuff.'' 

The old man took no notice of the remark but con- 
tinued to fumble amongst his papers. "So this is 
what Letty has to put up with, is it?" thought Harry. 
"I'll have another try. Nothing like patience and 
perseverance." 

"I suppose you take a stroll every day this fine 
weather?" 

"I never go out" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



64 THE BEAUTIFUn MRS. DAVENANT 

The reply was rapped forth so sharply that Harry 
aknost jumped. 

"That seems a pity," he commented. "Surely it 
would do you good to get out into the sunshine ?" 

No reply was vouchsafed to this suggestion, and 
at that moment Letty entered, and with a swift smile 
walked to her chair by the broad latticed window. 

Harry followed her, and took a seat near, watching 
her as she sat looking out with hands folded in her 
lap. The sunshine gleaming on the pale gold threads 
of her hair added a vivid calmness, like flowers at 
evening, to the delicate face. The picture of her 
seated there amid age and decay stayed with Harry 
long afterwards. The wide gray eyes had that liquid 
look which speaks of a mind full of untold things 
rather than external objects; nothing blurred or un- 
finished, but only like a perfect white flower with a 
faint tinge of color in its petals. 

The midday dinner, though strictly plain, was ex- 
ceedingly good and well cooked. A leg of tender 
home-grown mutton, served with potatoes that were 
balls of flour, and a rice pudding to follow. The 
whole washed down by ten-year-old brown ale in a 
foaming goblet. 

During the meal Harry was thoroughly at his ease. 
He looked, talked, and acted like one who took for 
granted the courtesy which he would have exercised 
himself, had the circumstances been reversed. The 
did man^s impenetrable exterior and harsh rejoinders 
made no more impression upon him than Sarah's face, 
which was bitter beyond words as she condescended 
to set the food before them on the table. He kept 
up a light, running conversation with Letty, who ably 
seconded his endeavors to be cheerful, but there was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 65 

one thing the girl noticed that seemed to make no less 
impression upon her lover than it did upon herself. 
The portrait seemed to fascinate him against his will, 
and he stared often at it as if trying to trace some 
illusive likeness. 

Turning suddenly from one of those puzzled glances 
he met the eyes of Geoffrey Thorpe, furtively watching 
him. 

"Is it a good likeness ?" he asked abruptly. 

"Yes," was the dry, clipped reply. 

"Surely he must have changed greatly since that 
was painted?" 

"Possibly." 

"It's a most unpleasant portrait," declared Harry. 
"IVe always heard he was a strikingly handsome man, 
with an extraordinary attractiveness about him, but 
there's something most forbidding, something defiant 
and cynical about that chap that I can't stand." Then 
he laughingly added: "Of course you know of the 
rot talked by some people about here. They swear 
he isn't dead, that he'll turn up some fine day and 
revolutionize things here." 

Letty, with all her senses strained to acute attention, 
was conscious that Sarah Greatrex was standing still 
as if transfixed, and she shot a swift, stealthy glance 
at Geoffrey Thorpe. The result upon the old man of 
Harry's careless speech was electrical and startling. 
His face faded to a ghastly pallor and he threw an 
affrighted glance over his shoulder. Then anger 
seized him and his voice quivered with half-suppressed 
passion. 

"How dare you repeat that unhealthy gossip in 
my house?" he demanded. "I'm surprised at your 
listening to it, you who ought to know better. The 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



66 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

young man, remember, would not be recognizable now 
if he were still alive." 

Harry smiled indolently and shrugged his shoulders. 
"I'm afraid, sir, you can't stop people talking. How 
old was Mark Thorpe when he left this country?" 

"I don't remember," was the gruff retort 

Harry changed the subject, turning to Letty and 
asking her if she had heard any news of her pupil. 

"Yes! I had a letter yesterday from her mother. 
Gladys is not well, and there is just a chance of their 
not returning to London for some months. In that 
case I should at once look out for another situation." 

"There will be no necessity for you to do that." 

It was Geoffrey Thorpe who spoke, and both the 
young people glanced at him in undisguised amaze- 
ment. The tone of his voice had utterly changed — 
it was conciliatory, almost suave. 

"I'm well aware, niece, that this is no cheerful 
abode for the young, but you are welcome to remain 
here so long as it suits your convenience." 

Letty had never heard her uncle make so long a 
speech before, and she stammered out her thanks in 
rather haphazard fashion. She had been under the 
firm conviction that he was counting the days till her 
departure. Now he offered her unlimited hospitality. 

"You know my ways by now, and you do not in- 
terrupt me. I am old and a recluse, but if you can put 
up with these conditions I shall be pleased if you will 
remain," he concluded almost gently. 

The girl's heart was touched, and she instantly 
reproached herself for the utterly wrong view she had 
formed of her uncle's character. She thanked him 
again most warmly, and, the meal being over, she rose 
and left the two men alone. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 67 

Geoffrey Thorpe's manner had indeed undergone a 
startling change, which Harry noticed with secret 
amazement. He talked now as his kinsman never 
dreamed he could talk, in a nervous excited voice, 
and two spots of scarlet shone on his pallid sunken 
cheeks. He hobbled to a cupboard and brought out 
with tender care an old cobwebbed bottle, pressing 
its contents upon Harry. He seemed terribly anxious 
to make full amends for his former incivility. 

Meanwhile Letty had made her way back to the 
trysting-place by the lake, and, as she surmised, her 
lover was not very long in joining her. 

"Wasn't it a success ?" he exclaimed boyishly. "Why, 
the old chap was simply tumbling over himself to be 
civil before I tore myself away. Asked me to shoot 
as many partridges as I liked, and showed me where 
I'd always find a gun and cartridges. The only stipu- 
lation was, I wasn't to disturb him more than I coiild 
help. It seems he's awfully busy over some old papers 
he's sorting out and does not want to be interrupted. 
Says it breaks the thread of something or other. Of 
course I assured him I shouldn't intrude. I'd just 
take the gun and hook it, if I wished to shoot." 

"What can have changed him so suddenly, Harry? 
I feel utterly bewildered." 

Harry laughed cheerfully. "Oh! of course the 
old chap's awfully dotty," he explained, "and dotty 
people are never of one mind two minutes together. 
I don't much fancy your being here, darling; at the 
same time I'm jolly glad he's invited you to stay on. 
That was an enormous concession for him to make, 
and it shows he likes you. I'm his heir and you're 
my future wife and future mistress here, and that 
makes me feel that if you can do anything to make 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



68 THE BEAUTIFUU MRS. DAVENANT 

life pleasanter for the poor old boy, it's a sort of duty 
to do it/' 

Letty pondered those words in her heart. Out- 
wardly she fully agreed, but a little spark of suspicion 
had leapt alive in her, and now she was not so sure of 
Geoffrey Thorpe's good intentions. She hated herself 
for it, but she could not help seeking for ulterior 
motives. That swift change from surly, angry an- 
tagonism to almost cringing civility was too sudden 
to be convincing. Such thoughts she determined to 
keep to herself. She had no intention of spoiling her 
lover's holiday by sowing in him the seeds of suspicion 
which would lead to anxiety on her account 

"I told him I'd be here a week, and that I was 
putting up at the White Hart," went on Harry in his 
happy voice, "and that I'd like, if he had no objection, 
to come and have a look round every day, and he 
was quite agreeable to that suggestion, so we'll meet 
here as usual at eleven a.m. and spend our few 
precious hours together. Oh! Letty, what a joy 
you are to me and how you banish the gloom of the 
old place." 

**Yes! I don't think I could have stayed on but 
for you, Harry." 

He noted the sudden seriousness of her voice. "It's 
so awfully lonely, you mean?" 

"It's not so much the loneliness as " 

"Well, darling ! Out with it," he urged. 

For a moment there was silence, then she smiled 
rather wistfully and shook her head. 

"Let us talk of something else. You'd only laugh 
at me, Harry." 

"Have I ever laughed at you?" He looked at her 
now with an anxious expression on his face. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 69 

She slipped her hand into his. "I don't mean that 
you'd scoff, but it would be hard for you to under- 
stand how curious life is here. However, I mean to 
stay on because I fully agree with all you've just been 
saying. Now don't let us waste any more time. I 
want to ask you a question." 

"Ask on, darling." 

"Do you think there's any foundation for that 
gossip you spoke of at dinner? Could it be that Mark 
Thorpe is still alive?" 

"Foundation? Certainly not. Mark Thorpe's as 
dead as mutton. If I thought he might be alive, how 
could I look upon myself as this old man's successor?" 

"Tell me about him, Harry. How did he die, and 
where?" she persisted gently. 

"He was last heard of on board a ship that never 
reached port. That must be over ten years ago, and 
it must be over twenty since he left this country. He 
was an awful scamp, Letty. At one time he was in 
prison, but that's about all I do know. I was too 
young at that time to trouble my head about family 
history. I just remember my father telling me the 
story before he died." 

"And did he live here, Harry?" 

"Yes, and squandered a considerable amount of 
money before he went abroad. I've heard he was 
wonderfully attractive and plausible. A chap who'd 
charm a bird off a tree; but that's all old history, 
finished and done with. Why are you so interested 
in him, darling?" 

Letty smiled. "I'm not really interested in him, 
but in his portrait. It worries me. ' The eyes follow 
me about the room." 

"I've heard that's a sign of a really good portrait," 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



70 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT ' 

declared Harry. "You must try, darling, not to let 
the gloom of the place get on your nerves. Remember 
how long it's been neglected, but it's capable of great 
improvements, and some day I hope to make it look 
very cheerful." 

They smiled into each other's eyes and then fell to 
silence. The sun was moving westward and threw 
a radiance upon their young faces. They both felt 
what a wonderful thing in their lives was this deep 
love for each other, and every fresh meeting brought 
greater joy than the last. By the pool lay a hush as 
if all nature extended to them sympathy and under- 
stood their bliss. The trees threw great purple 
shadows on the blue breast of the water, where moor- 
hens swam and dived, and the fish, rising to the flies, 
cast ring after ring and ripple after ripple to the banks. 
The sky was silver gfray and brooded like a dove above 
them. The silence of the lovers seemed more full of 
meaning than any words they had ever whispered. 

Flop! A big fish, curved like a half moon, hurled 
itself out of the water and dropped down again in a 
shower of silver spray. 

Harry sighed and looked at his watch. 

"I must be oflF now, sweetheart. I've promised to 
look in on one of the old farmers and have tea with 
him. To-morrow at the same hour and place." 

They strolled together to the dilapidated iron gates 
and Harry took her in his arms again. His love for 
her was unbounded, a love which had leapt alive in 
that first hour they met in Miss Thorpe's prim Ham- 
mersmith parlor five years ago. In his way he was 
as alone in life as Letty was, and the few hundreds a 
year his dead parents had left him were not enough 
on which to keep a wife; but his natural energy and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 71 

perseverance were spurred to their greatest effort by 
the promise of the future, and in glowing colors he 
pictured it with the girl of his heart enthroned as wife, 
in the house his labor would win for her. 

Letty re-entered the Lake House with a light step. 
For the first time she forgot how dark and dismal it 
was, and a tell-tale radiance was upon her face as she 
opened the living-room door. The presence of her 
uncle recalled her instantly to all the old difficulties. 
His secretive, angry glance was full upon her, and his 
passion seemed to rise as he noted the signs of happy 
youth in her shining glance and delicately flushed 
cheeks. His former conciliatory manner had vanished, 
and it flashed across Letty that she had only dreamt it. 

"How dare you invite that young cub into my 
house ?" he flared out violently. "I thought you under- 
stood your position better. I deny you nothing in 
reason, but I won't permit you to invite people inside 
my property, my house. Recollect that," he added, 
banging his bony fist on the table. 

"I never invited Harry Thorpe here, and he told 
you so, Uncle/' 

He disregarded her quiet denial. "I'll not have 
any one here," he continued furiously. "I tell you 
it's strictly forbidden. I won't have any one spying 
about me and my belongings. You can tell Thorpe, 
next time you see him, to keep his distance. He's 
no right here till I'm dead. Now that's all I have to 
say. You understand?" 

Her lover's words came back to her. She had 
been convinced from the first that her uncle's mind 
was deranged and Harry thought the same. It made 
her accept his violent onslaught with quiet, unrufiled 
dignity. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



72 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"Yes, uncle, I quite understand, and so far as! am 
concerned your wishes shall be strictly respected," she 
replied gently; then she seated herself quietly in the 
window and took up her sewing. Not aiiother word 
passed that night between uncle and niece. 

Later, when she went to her room, her solitude was 
lightened by the memories of the day and the blissful 
hours she had passed with her lover. She could still 
feel his kisses on her lips, and the strength of his 
sheltering arms. 

His adoring words came back to her, and touched 
her with the consciousness that she was young and 
devotedly loved. The future lying before her was 
radiant with hope. Life was not always to be silent 
and gloomy, and meanwhile she must bear with the 
old man's whims, and strive to do all in her power to 
lighten the sadness of his old age. Filled with these 
thoughts she undressed and went to bed and to sleep. 

She was roused thoroughly and completely. In 
the actual room all was quiet, the window was wide 
open and a splash of pale moonlight fell athwart the 
black oak floor and heavy furniture. It was the same 
story of the stealthy footsteps down the gallery, the 
sliding movement of the phantom hand on the wall 
behind her bed, and then the steps dying away again 
into the distance. In her startled imagination she 
followed them along the Ghosfs Walk, through the 
dark tangled wood to the lake. She measured the 
tread of the furtive footsteps in the gallery, wondering 
if they would return. 

The lonely night wore on. The clock in the village 
church tower tolled off the leaden-footed hours. The 
pale moon set and the east grew rosy with dawn, but 
the footsteps did not return. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE LOVERS 73 

Gradually her thoughts slid away into that other 
world through which she loved to wander. Such 
heavenly dreams covered with fresh spring fragrance, 
the grave of the dying and the dead in which she now; 
seemed buried. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER VII 

MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 

MRS. DAVENANT did not forget her promise 
to write to Letty Thome. She dispatched a 
charming little note to her containing an invitation 
to lunch for a couple of days ahead, and she found 
herself looking forward with interested anticipation 
to their meeting. She was eager to see the girl again, 
not only because she liked her, and was curious to 
know if she had been through any psychic experiences, 
but because of an interest she took in Letty's present 
surroundings. 

There had been incidents, in the life of Mrs. Dave- 
nant which had brought her into touch with certain 
members of the Thorpe family. They were incidents 
of long ago, and had no connection with the present 
day, but they had been painful enough to leave scars 
on her memory which would never be obliterated. 

On mentioning* her traveling companion to Miss 
Howard, that lady had answered uncompromisingly — 
*T told you so. You insisted on taking this house 
and coming to live in this neighborhood in spite of 
my warnings. Of course you were bound to come in 
contact with some member of the Thorpe family." 

"What does it matter?" retorted Mrs. Davenant, 
imperturbably. "I've done with them many a long 
year ago." 

74 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS, DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 75 

"They may not have done with you." Agnes 
Howard spdce calmly, but she thought to herself that 
it might matter a very great deal, and lead to endless 
complications, but she did not say so. It^might, otf 
the other hand, lead to nothing at all. Why anticipate 
trouble? They had both gone through so much in the 
past, and the present was so tranquil. 

So the letter to Letty was written and posted, and 
the girl at once showed it to her lover. 

"Of course you'll go, darling," he concluded. 

"I thought of refusing. It'll be your last day, 
Harry, and I don't want to lose a moment of you," 
she demurred. 

"You won't lose a moment, sweetheart. We'll 
meet here as usual at eleven, and then I'll walk with 
you as far as Little Glentworth, and after lunch we'll 
meet again at some spot arranged. I'd like you to 
make friends in the neighborhood. Though the old 
man bangs his doors in the face of all and sundry, that 
need not affect you. Go about as much as you can. 
It'll ease the tedium, and every one about here knows 
what he is. They'U understand that you can't invite 
them back." 

Letty pondered on this sound advice. She was 
depressed, and rather sad because of another letter she 
had received making it clear that her pupil would not 
require her services any longer. The girl was too ill 
now to receive any tuition. This probably meant that 
she would remain on at the Lake House for some 
weeks longer. It was what Aunt Fanny advised, and 
it seemed her fate. Harry broke in on those musings. 

"I hear Mrs. Davenant has taken a long lease of 
Little Glentworth. It's a lovely old place. What's 
she like?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



76 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"Perfectly charming and lovely, with dreams of 
dothes and pearls. She was in like railway carriage 
when we said good-by." 

"I didn't notice her. I'd eyes only for you, sweet- 
heart, but she must be a good sort. She needn't 
have remembered to write, and it would be ungracious 
of you to refuse. There isn't too much kindness in 
this world," concluded Harry with the air of a man 
of seventy. 

So it was arranged, and two days later the lovers 
set off together for their walk to Little Glentworth, 
life looming before them as straight and simple as the 
high road they walked upon. 

Their route lay through the village of Great Glent- 
worth, and of all the old-world, out-of-the-way ham- 
lets, it seemed to its rare visitors the sleepiest and love- 
liest. Though it could not attain to the dignity of more 
than one shop, post office and general provisioner com- 
bined, it was inordinately proud of the White Hart 
where Harry lodged. A rambling, old-fashioned inn, 
which once in coaching days had known great pros-* 
perity, and was now waking to renewed life as the era 
of the automobile asserted ever more triumphantly its 
hold upon England. Great Glentworth was also very 
proud of its Manor House, the imposing massiveness 
of which no modern builder could achieve. Once a 
week the villagers had permission to wander through 
the great gardens sheltered by ruddy fruit-covered 
walls; to stray by its fish ponds, in whose muddy 
depths and weedy surfaces fat carp dwelt secure ; to 
pace the broad terraces facing west, or linger by the 
ancient bowling greens and let the thoughts rove with- 
out bias like the bowls themselves. Great Glentworth 
seemed a sleeping village as the lovers strolled through 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY JJ 

its wide main street, which was more a glorified lane 
than anything else, and with one accord they paused 
at the crowded little window of the one and only shop. 

"Let* s buy some bull's eyes, they're always ripping 
in a place like this," suggested Harry. 

Letty hesitated. ''Don't you think it would be 
wise to wait till after lunch?'' she urged. 

"I certainly think it would be wise," said a laugh- 
ing voice behind them, and, swinging round, they 
found themselves face to face with Mrs. Davenant. 

Harry laughingly uncovered, whilst Letty, with a 
brilliant blush, shook hands. 

"We were on our way to Little Glentworth — ^at 
least I was. Harry — ^Mr. Thorpe was only taking me 
as far as your gates," explained Letty, rather inco- 
herently. 

Mrs. Davenant offered her hand to the young man 
and her eyes danced with fun. 

"Mr. Thorpe will, I hope, take us both to the 
house and remain to luncheon. You are a relation of 
Mr. Thorpe of the Lake House, I presume?" 

*T am only his kinsman," answered Harry, modest- 
ly, "and also, of course, a kinsman of Miss Thome's. 
I'm spending a few days at the White Hart over 
yonder. It's a nice, comfortable old inn. It's aw- 
fully kind of you to invite me to lunch." 

"So you're not stopping at the Lake House; I 
wonder why not," thought Mrs. Davenant. Aloud 
she said smilingly: "I wish I'd known you were in 
the village. I believe I'd have come to call. How 
long are you staying?" 

"I regret to say I go back to-morrow, and I'd 
have been indeed honored to have received you in 
the White Hart best parlor." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



78 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

She Icx^ed at him with her beautiful smiling eyes. 
^Tm sorry you go so soon, and it's all the more reason 
that you should accept my invitation now. Come! 
Let's walk on, it's nearly half-past one, and you can 
buy your bull's eyes after luncheon." 

She turned, as though the subject needed no further 
discussion, and Harry, nothing loth, thanked her and 
marched alongside. 

For a few moments they kept up a running fire of 
platitudes, then Mrs. Davenant glanced up at the six 
feet of her companion and said demurely — 

'1 think I've seen you before, haven't I, Mr. 
Thorpe?" 

Harry steadily met the blue eyes innocently raised 
to his. For a second or two he looked inquiringly into 
them, striving to make up hi^ mind upon a very im- 
portant matter. Then he decided what action to 
take. 

"Yes, probably you saw me saying good-by to Letty 
at Paddington, Mrs. Davenant." 

"Yes, that was when I did see you. In fact I could 
hardly have helped seeing you, could I?" There was 
demure fun in her voice. She had lowered her 
eyes. 

For a moment or two there was silence as the three 
walked briskly forward, then Harry plunged. What 
was the use of fencing with a woman towards whom 
his instinct urged him to be perfectly open. 

"I believe you're to be trusted, Mrs. Davenant, 
but even if you aren't you've got the whip handle of 
us. You saw us say good-by to one another, and I 
freely own that what you saw was — ^well, implicating, 
to say the least of it." 

"I did see you, and I thoroughly entered into the 



Digitized by 



Google 



MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 79 

meaning of what I saw," she retorted quite gravely. 
Then she glanced up at him, "Mn Thorpe, I'm to 
be trusted, anyway where a love story is concerned. 
You'd better make a clean breast of yours and no 
more ado about the matter. You'll find me thoroughly 
sympathetic." 

"I wonder!" 

*'You don't really. Try me and prove it. Why 
should I be different to others? Look at any book- 
stall you like and you'll soon see what the popular 
literature consists of. The pictures wrapping the 
majority of the books represent a man and a woman 
embracing, or about to» embrace. Love is the subject 
that never palls, that never loses its infinite attractions. 
Kingdoms and kings may rise and fall, but love goes 
on forever. It is the only subject that has ever been 
known to hold the sustained interest of the British 
race. People marveled at the welcome given to 
Hawker. They didn't see through the Daily MaiPs 
consummate understanding of human nature in giving 
us daily pictures of Mrs. Hawker and the baby. It 
was love, the young wife and baby waiting at home, 
that really roused that ovation. The public didn't 
care twopence about the Atlantic. All they cared 
for was to see love re-united." 

Harry capitulated amidst laughter. "It's most aw- 
fully decent of you to take an interest in us, Mrs. 
Davenant, and I don't mind telling you exactly how 
Letty and I stand," he went on reddessly. "You see, 
we love each other. We're engaged, but privately, 
that's all there is to it." 

"Privately! That means you've met with opposi- 
tion which, after all, is only set up to be knocked 
down. Who opposes you, Mr. Harry?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



80 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

"Miss Thorpe. She's warned me off the Hammer- 
smith premises, and made the deuce of a row over our 
meeting, even when I was over on a day or two's 
leave." 

"The devil she did," laughed Mrs. Davenant. "Sup- 
posing she should continue to refuse her con- 
sent?" 

He shook his head and set his lips. "It won't 
make the smallest difference to us in the long ruh, 
but as her house is Letty's only home, we have to be 
cautious in the meanwhile till we can afford to defy 
her." 

"But why should she object to your engagement?" 
persisted Hilda. 

"Oh ! just dog in the mangerism and pure cussed- 
ness. She doesn't want Letty herself, and she doesn't 
want any one else to have her if she can prevent 
it." 

"What an attractive character Miss Thorpe is 
possessed of," laughed Hilda. "She seems to share 
some of Uncle's peculiarities." 

"Oh! Uncle, he's much worse," burst out Letty. 
"He must never know we're engaged. Our love for 
one another is far too sacred and precious a thing to 
be trampled upon and sneered at by him. He'd be 
hideously sarcastic if he knew. Oh! you don't know 
what he is!" 

"I can imagine, even though I've never seen the 
old gentleman. I think of him as a sort of old 
Scrooge. Now tell me, when do you propose to get 
married? Remember, even love's not enough to begin 
on, and much less is it enough to live by." 

"The first moment I've earned enough to keep a 
wife," declared Harry, promptly. "I hope that'll be 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 8ii 

in about another year to eighteen months. It's not 
so long to wait." 

"Not so long to wait! Why, a year's a lifetime, 
and you've lost five already, and even love's young 
dream hasn't solved the problem of perpetual youth," 
exclaimed Mrs. Davenant. 

"It's not a lifetime when you're in love. Then a 
year's only about ten minutes, and our meetings are 
only about one second. This week's passed like wink- 
ing.'* 

"I suppose, after all, it would be like that," mused 
Hilda with a trace of melandioly. 

"You won't give us away, Mrs. Davenant?" 

"I'd die sooner. I'm as safe as a safe deposit 
What's more, I'll do all I can to help you. The vicar, 
Mr. Warburton, is coming to lunch. So we'll have 
to bluff a little in his presence, but there'll be no need 
to bluff in mine." 

"I know Warburton and like him awfully," de- 
clared Harry, "and it's extraordinarily good of you 
to be so friendly towards us. When I'm gone it'll be 
a great comfort to me to think Letty's got a friend in 
you. It's a sad sort of life for her at the Lake House." 

"Are you friendly with Mr. Thorpe?" asked 
Hilda. 

"Hardly friendly," confessed Harry. "He has to 
tolerate me to a certain extent, because I succeed him 
in the property." 

"Ah! that does make the situation much more 
thrilling," she exclaimed, looking up more seriously 
at him. "So you're the next-of-kin. That's really 
very interesting." 

"Yes! I'm the. next-of-kin. Had my father lived 
he would have succeeded. Mark Thorpe was still 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



82 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

aUve when I was a lad. Geoffrey, the present man, 
succeeded him, and my father would have been the 
next heir had he lived.** 

"And what happened to Mark Thorpe?" asked 
Hilda, deeply interested. 

"He was drowned in a shipwreck years ago, and 
I'm afraid he wasn't much loss. He was always a 
real rotter, and we never heard very much about him. 
Luckily he left no progeny to inherit his villainies." 

"That was a mercy," exclaimed Mrs. Davenant; 
*1>ut there's always a black sheep in every family. 
Sometimes there's even quite a large flock. Well! 
I hope when you and Letty marry and succeed to the 
Lake House you'll turn out all the ghosts. I'm told 
there are flocks of them." 

Mrs. Davenant, as she spoke, glanced gayly at the 
girl, and a queer little thrill ran through her. 

"She's actually seen something," she thought in- 
stantly, as she met full the wide gray eyes. If ever 
fear was expressed on any face it was expressed on 
that of Letty Thome. 

"Oh ! that's all tommy rot, Mrs. Davenant," Harry 
assured her smilingly. "The truth is, Geoffrey Thorpe 
himself sent abroad the rtmior that the old place is 
badly haunted, just to keep away the neighbors. He's 
a hermit and hardly sane." 

Letty Thome said nothing, and they turned in at 
the lodge gate of Little Glentworth and walked briskly 
up the half-mile drive. Mrs. Davenant apparently 
accepted Harry's explanation and changed the con- 
versation. When he had departed she would find an 
opportunity of discovering all the girl knew. 

When they entered the drawing-room they found 
Miss Howard entertaining Mr. Warburton. A tall 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 83 

intellectual-looking man, who had a quiet fund of 
humor and a very broad outlook on the world. 

"IVe brought Mr. Harry Thorpe to lunch/' said 
Mrs. Davenant as she shook hands and made hef 
guests known to one another. "He's been staying at* 
the White Hart, and Fm so sorry I've only discovered 
him as he's leaving." 

"And I've had bad luck in missing you. When' 
you came to see me, and I went to see you. They told 
me at the inn that you were away at the Lake House," 
said Warburton. 

"I was very busy enjoying a holiday," laughed 
Harry a trifle self-consciously, "and I'm off back to 
work to-morrow; however, I hope to return before 
very long, sir." 

Warburton turned and sat down beside Letty, re- 
garding her with interested scrutiny. He had heard 
of her arrival, but had not chanced to see her before. 
She suddenly appealed to the tenderness of his nature. 
The smooth skin, almost waxen in texture, had a 
suggestion of delicacy, and the wistful glance of the 
large gray eyes in repose made up an effect which 
Warburton found touched him a good deal. 

"I wish I could offer to be of some use to you, 
Miss Thome. I heard of your arrival, but you prob- 
ably know that your uncle bars us all out." 

"Alas! yes, I do know that. He makes no secret 
of it. I wish he wasn't so very peculiar," answered 
Letty, regretfully. 

Warburton smiled reassuringly. "Oh! well, after 
all, Mr. Thorpe has a right to be peculiar, so long as 
he doesn't harm any one else in being so. If he prefers 
perfect solitude, why shouldn't he have it? But I 
fear it's rather a dull life for you, and I was delighted 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



84 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

to hear from Mrs. Davenant that she's persuaded you 
to come here to-day." 

"Oh! I don't mind dullness in the least," declared 
Lctty, earnestly, "and Uncle gives me perfect liberty. 
The fact is, he's not normal, poor dear; that's the real 
root of the trouble/' 

"Does he know you are lunching here to-day?'* 
asked Mrs. Davenant. 

Letty blushed suddenly, and looked startled and 
distressed. 

"Oh I no. I never dreamed of asking him if I 
might come." 

"And he won't ask where you've been on your 
return?" 

The girl shook her head, and answered with a pretty 
little touch of defiance — » 

"He hardly ever speaks, and he doesn't take the 
faintest interest in my movements. If he did ask, of 
course I should be perfectly frank with him. WKy 
should I not?" 

"Why, indeed; but what a strange existence for 
any man to lead," murmured Warburton. "I am 
profoundly sorry for him." 

"So am I," responded Letty, quietl^, "because he 
always seems so terribly unhappy." 

They went in to lunch, and the Lake House was 
forgotten in the gayer topics that were introduced by 
Mrs. Davenant and ably seconded by Agnes Howard 
and Warburton, but every now and again the vicar's 
eyes strayed first to Letty and then to Harry in a 
puzzled way. He was clearly trying to decide upon 
their relationship. Mrs. Davenant was more inter- 
ested than ever in her young friend. She had expected^ 
her to be shy and nervous, with the gauchiness of 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT MEETS HARRY 85 

youth and an obscure life, but Letty had serenity, a 
rare quality in a girl of her age. She could be merry 
upon occasion in a gentle, tranquil way, and as her 
self-confidence expanded under the shelter of their 
growing intimacy she disclosed plenty of initiative and 
individuality. Hilda also felt much admiration for 
Harry Thorpe. She liked his quiet, self-respecting air, 
as of one who, having thus far won the battle of 
life, has the longing for wider conflict. She felt in- 
stinctively he was a true and earnest soul, and she 
suspected he set a high value on the future, and what 
life would be worth to himself and others. He wotdd 
neither be seriously thwarted nor trifled with, and 
he would prefer self-help to being helped. 

"Even I could not tear him away from the pale 
little girl he loves," she thought, with a backward 
glance into her past, "but Fd never try. Tve always 
tried to play the game, and Tm too much in love with 
love to wound it." Then she looked at Harry with 
calm, clear eyes, prematurely old in the experience of 
life. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER VIII 

LOCAL GOSSIP 

"^ITTHAT a dream place," said Hilda Davenant 

VV to herself, when for the first time she gazed 
upon the Lake House. 

Hilda was an excellent walker and she loved ex- 
ercise. The fact had helped materially to preserve 
her youth and beauty. Clad in short tweed skirt, 
sports coat, and low-heeled, stoutly soled boots, she 
had just covered three miles, and felt no fatigue or 
reluctance to cover another three on the return jour- 
ney. 

"Yes, what a dream place!'* she repeated softly 
and meditatively, as, leaning on her stick, she sur- 
veyed her lonely and beautiful surroundings. 

She had gradually come to know exactly where 
the Lake House was situated, and had mapped out 
its geography for herself. She concluded that by 
following certain lanes and paths across the fields, 
she could come within sight of the place, and avoid 
all high roads and established approaches. Quietly, 
and without mentioning the fact to any one, she had 
learned how to reach the spot she longed to look 
upon. 

It was early on a brilliant October afternoon that 
she had carried out her plan, and now she felt reward- 
ed. Across bare stubbles, across dry ditches still blind 

86 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP 87 

with luxuriant foliage, through narrow, overhung 
lanes and wide green pasturages she had reached her 
destination, and not once had she *needed to inquire 
her way, which was lucky. She had met only one 
very infirm old laborer, and numerous cattle and graz- 
ing horses that had lifted their heads and stared in 
astonishment at so unusual an apparition. 

Hilda found herself on the opposite side of the 
lake to that on which the house was situated. She 
stood amidst very rough ground, grass-grown and 
starred with large brilliant scarlet fungi. Sparse and 
ancient firs rose at intervals, and numerous dead giants 
of the forest lay prone where the wind had laid 
them. 

Immediately in front of her the land shelved 
abruptly down towards the lake. Here and there 
were narrow tracks made by poachers, sheep and 
rabbits, amongst the confused wilderness of great 
bowlders, enormous plumes of ferns, and a network 
of branches. The lake lay like a sheet of dull silver, 
not a breath moving its surface, long purple shadows 
of trees and cloud motionless upon its bosom. On 
the other side of the water from where she stood lay 
the remains of a summerhouse. Once it had pre- 
tended to be a Greek temple, now it was nothing but 
a confused heap of rotting timber. It stood on higher 
ground above the lake, and its back was turned to a 
dense wood which lay between the lake and the Lake 
House. 

From the elevation upon which Mrs. Davenant 
stood, and the angle at which she chanced to catch 
it, she could see the house around which so much 
mystery had gathered. The sun fell full upon the 
long beamed frontage, of what Claude Carlton had 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



68 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

spoken of as one of the finest examples of black and 
white architecture in England. Sunshine bathed the 
great smokeless chimney stacks, and latticed windows 
in a blaze of shimmering gold, yet over all there seemed 
to hang an atmosphere of prof oundest melancholy. 

It lay there so silent, so bereft of all those cheerful 
stirring sounds of life attendant on a great property. 
At Great Glentworth on such a golden afternoon the 
guns would be popping in the stubbles or at the cover- 
side. Foresters would be busy with the ax, the saw 
and the priming knife. There would be the jingle of 
harness from that old sloth, the plow, as she crept 
across the chocolate-colored furrows. There would 
be the lowing of the Jersey herd at the approach of 
milking time, and the neighing of one horse to another 
across the pastures. The whistle of Claude Carlton 
to his dogs, as they investigated the rabbit holes in the 
hedges and ditches, and the voices of men and women 
working in orchard and garden. 

Here were no signs of human life, though wild life 
was present in abundance. A pair of herons fished 
knee-deep at the edge of the water, and the white 
scuds of rabbits flashed ever)nvhere. Above, motion- 
less on outstretched pinions, a hawk was poised, and 
a raven sailed by on indolent wing, pursued by a flock 
of foolhardy little birds, whose pugnacity was strong- 
er than their sense of preservation. 

Mrs. Davenant gazed long and earnestly on the 
scene, and her face was very sad and tragic. It 
brought back to her certain incidents in her life that 
she never cared to dwell upon. They were closed for- 
ever, but the memory remained and it hurt. She had 
so often in days gone by pictured the Lake House to 
herself. Now, actually face to face with the reality, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAE GOSSIP 89 

it seemed to bring back with startling clarity incidents 
she fain would have forgotten. 

She shook herself clear of her dreams at last and 
peered in front of her. 

"Yes, I think I might venture. There doesn't 
seem to be a living soul about," she said out loud to 
herself, and then she began to make the rough, steep 
descent to the edge of the lake. In another ten 
minutes she stood on flat ground, rather breathless 
and untidy from the stem opposition nature had 
shown towards her intentions, but comfortably trium- 
phant at having carried out her object. She walked 
slowly round the bend of the lake till she reached 
the summerhouse, into which she penetrated, and 
sat down on the crazy seat to rest and think 
awhile. 

One could dream here in the warm hushed silence. 
One could make love here, secure from observation. 
Was this where Harry and Letty came to pour out 
their mutual adoration? Was this where the ghost 
walked, and who was the ghost, she wondered? It 
was surprising how uncommunicative Letty was on, 
the subject. Mrs. Davenant could and did appreciate 
the fact that Miss Thome was the future mistress of 
the Lake House, and naturally would not desire to 
add to the evil reputation of her home, but she thought 
that Letty might have confided to her some little 
thrills, some little gray mystery. The trath was that 
though Mrs. Davenant was so keen on hearing all 
about the ghost, she did not really believe in its exist- 
ence, and she had unconsciously adopted Harry 
Thorpe's explanation that the old man had himself 
set afloat the rumors to defend himself against all 
intruders, and frighten all and sundry from his doors. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



90 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Why he should desire this utter solitude was doubtless 
explained by insanity. Claude Carlton always spoke 
of him as insane^ and such seemed to be the general 
opinicHi. 

Now the utter peace of her surroundings began to 
sink into the very heart of her being, and she was 
conscious of a sense of contentment hitherto unknown. 
She told herself that she was really happy at Little 
Glentworth, happier than she had ever been. Country 
life seemed to suit her, and she adored lovely scenery 
and wild life. The placid, dignified existence of the 
landed gentry had always appealed to her in the pre^ 
war days when she paid country visits. There was 
such an atmosphere of freedom from worry and care, 
and again such homes were being reconstructed upon 
their original lines. There were once more the 
numerous well-trained domestics under the t3rranny 
of efficient housekeepers, and the same staffs of soft- 
footed men servants, who had returned slightly dam- 
aged and grateful for peace. To be waited upon, hand 
and foot, and only have to interview the head game- 
keeper, and the land agent who drew the rents was 
an ideal arrangement. 

The wonderful unpunctuality of such lives was 
attractive. None now dreamed of getting up early, 
unless sport demanded an effort. Breakfast hung 
about till all hours, and the groaning luncheon boards 
humbly awaited the pleasure of the trenchermen to 
lighten their weight. 

On those big estates food was no real difficulty. 
Fish in the river, cattle and sheep on the pastures, 
game and rabbits in the covers, grain, vegetables, 
roots and fruit, home-grown in abundance. A dairy 
with a safe supply of butter, milk and cream. Doubt- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP 91 

less there had been a certain respect for the Food 
Controller's orders, but there had never been any real 
dearth. That sense of freedom from the law, and the 
prevailing economic conditions appealed strongly to 
Hilda's independent soul. 

The life at Little Glentworth appealed to her also. 
She enjoyed having no engagements to keep, save an 
occasional luncheon or tea. She was free to dispose 
of her days as she pleased. She had become bored with 
London through sheer fatigue. 

Before the war she had racketed persistently and 
pertinaciously, because every one else racketed, and 
she wished to keep step with the world. London 
liked her, and with ample funds, a knowledge of the 
ropes and but few prejudices, she had kept pace with 
the rapidest. 

Then war broke. "Business as usual" was con- 
strued into pleasure as usual. The license of the times 
at first appalled her, then amused her, more often ii 
repulsed her. She saw all moral sense scattered to 
the four winds of heaven, all classes abandoning them- 
selves to unbridled freedom of moral action. She 
looked on, secretly wondering, whilst a stupendous 
avalanche overtook her sex and altered their entire 
future. Her set had but one object, to forget the 
Jiorrors of war, and to assist the men on leave to 
forget their misery. 

The last two years had brought about great 
changes. Automobiles were slung up in private 
garages, and there were no taxis. Her set went to 
work. 

Hilda Davenant did her bit in a hospital war depot 
all day, and walked to her evening entertainments. 
She dined, and danced, and supped at night, bringing 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



92 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

with her, as all the smart world did, a couple of bottles 
of champagne from her own cellar. 
i There was a distinct taste of novelty about life 
during those times of stress. 

For five years there had always been the back- 
ground of war, a hideous excitement from which there 
had been no escape. 

From the moment the armistice was signed, life, 
for Hilda Davenant, had fallen down crash, to a 
horribly sordid level. Strikes, and the threat of revo- 
lution did not cause her any fear; she knew too little 
about them to be afraid, and England was very war- 
yreary, so people said. 

Her set was by no means weary. It was spinning 
round harder than ever again, and spending more than 
ever before upon what some silly politicians called un- 
productive labor. Automobiles were unslung as the 
chauffeurs were demobilized, and one could not as 
yet get taxis because they did not trouble to come out 
by day, preferring to earn a fiver a night for waiting 
outside the ballrooms. To Mrs. Davenant London 
had become unbearable, and she hurried out of it. 
She found herself in a world which hardly seemed to 
have changed at all. Of course there were a few 
empty chairs, but many had been filled again. There 
had been a quick change of husbands during the war. 
So many women had had three if not four. 
I Looking back on the past, Hilda Davenant knew 
herself to be tired in mind and body, whilst she had 
'thought she was merely bored. Racketing no longer 
appealed to her, and the knowledge of what so many 
of her sex had done in brilliant actual war service 
threw her objectless life into dark and contemptible 
contrast. She was a very intelligent woman, who had 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP 93 

known what it was to earn her daily bread. In these 
days her thoughts had been concentrated on finding 
some one to lift this anxious burden from off her 
shoulders. She was not sure now that her happiest 
days had not been passed in that early struggle. 

Social successes no longer attracted her, and, in 
the daily absence of Agnes Howard, who had entered 
into hospital drudgery, she found herself becoming a 
prey to discontent, dissatisfaction, and a sad disposi- 
tion to remember all the less happy incidents in her 
varied career. She thought that what would please 
her most would be a plunge into the waters ofi 
oblivion for a while, and this desire had driven her 
into the country. 

She had thought to find oblivion there, but had 
she found it? This was the question she now asked 
herself. 

Latterly there had awakened in her the long re- 
pressed and frustrated necessities of a woman's life, 
which many did without, but which were none the less 
conditional to natural happiness. The call of the 
flesh, the lust of the eyes, the ambition for power of 
woman's beauty over the senses of men ! There were 
hours when she seemed to be the battle ground of the 
passions, and the reckless curiosity of the whole hu- 
man race. As a married woman she could classify her 
own emotions, and understand her own nature as no 
single woman could. In resisting such onslaughts she 
felt as if she was wantonly flinging aside allurements 
and joys of quite inconceivable delight. 

Formerly she had been satisfied with getting through 
each day with a modicum of happiness, a minimum 
of boredom, yet insensibly she had grown to look for 
something wider and deeper than that. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



94 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

What was she here for, anyway? Where was she 
aiming for? What was her object in life? There 
seemed to be no answer to these questions. 

She had become aware of a great void, with no so- 
lution offering itself as to how it might be filled. As 
physical languor wore off in the new peace and health- 
ier life, other thoughts obtruded, and looming large 
was the oppression of a future empty of natural in- 
terest. 

Meanwhile she was simply drifting, but the void 
was there. Her temperament was warm and impul- 
sive, and capable of great and lasting devotion, and 
she knew that her powers of loving were being ruth- 
lessly wasted. She had always been in love with 
love, but the outflow of her nature was checked at its 
source by some inexorable destiny. 

The shadows were lengthening and the sun was 
nearing the brow of the cliff. Another minute or two 
and it would dip behind, and the lake would be plunged 
in gloom. 

Mrs. Davenant roused herself from out her medi- 
tations, and prepared to stroll homewards. From 
where she sat she could discern a tiny pathway winding 
round the face of the cliff, and by which she could 
regain her former route, with the long stretches of 
pasture and ragged hedges lying between her and the 
village of Great Glentworth. 

''I shall come here often again,*' she told herself, 
looking back upon the scene she had just left; ''there's 
something strangely attractive to me in its silent ruina- 
tion, it's so like my own life." 

She walked slowly, pondering over those problems 
with which her mind had been filled all afternoon, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAt GOSSIP 95 

and it was with something of a start that she looked 
up in answer to a cheery salutation. 

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Davenant. Been for a 
walk? What a glorious day!" 

The vicar of Great Glentworth stood before her, 
having just emerged from a gate leading into another 
meadow. 

"Good afternoon," she echoed. "Where have you 
sprung from so suddenly?" 

"I've been to see a side friend, and took the short 
cut across the fields home. I always leave the dusty 
high road whenever I possibly can, especially on a 
day like this." 

"It's glorious. It fills me full of thoughts and 
visions. I've not thought so much for a very long 
time as I have to-day," she declared with one of her 
flashing smiles. 

"And they've been happy thoughts upon the 
whole ?" he questioned, his serious eyes meeting hers 
for a moment as they moved on side by side. 

"They were rather disturbing, thank you," she 
returned demurely. "One doesn't think much in Lon- 
don. There's no time, and I've had rather an ac- 
cumulation to get through." 

"Ah! that's where the country scores. It is so 
easy to read and think. It's a poor, arid sort of exist- 
ence that never thinks." 

Hilda nodded her head in assent, "There are 
times," she said in rather grave measured tones, 
"when it is wiser not to think. Coming here has been 
something of a turning point in my existence. Fve 
pretty well exhausted life, and it's taken its toll of me. 
Though I am not really very old, I've crammed enough 
experience into it to fill ten lives, and now I've struck 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



96 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

off into quite a new track. IVe left all the ftm and 
frolic, and the reckless sort of comradeship one forms, 
and I've come down to this sleepy hollow to gain fresh 
experiences of a wholly different kind." 

For a moment she looked full at him, and he at her. 
There was a hardly repressed excitement in her bear- 
ing and aspect, and he was conscious of responding. 
The monotony of his parish work, the pettiness of the 
lives he lived amongst, fell away, becoming for the 
moment as if they were not. 

There was nothing of the sentimentalist about Am- 
brose Warburton, and the sudden appeal she made to 
him was hardly sensuous, still less sensual; neverthe- 
less an almost passionate desire of earthly beauty 
seized upon him. Of the beauty of things seen, the 
beauty of the human form, of things he had read of 
but never beholden. Beauty of unknown distant lands, 
of arid deserts and snow-peaked mountains, of ancient 
cities with cool courts where fountains played, and, 
above all, the beauty of youth and the illimitable hori- 
zon of youth's hopes. 

What was there in his companion that had flooded 
him over with such vision? He struggled against it, 
as against a rising tide. 

Her voice recalled him. "Some day I want you 
to tell me things, Mr. Warburton. There are so many, 
many things I want to know." 

'That we all want to know. There are so very 
few answers to our questions," he replied gently. "I 
can assure you I am always being humbled by the 
knowledge of my own ignorance." 

She looked at him intently, questioningly, hesitated 
a moment, and then spoke again. 

"I think you'd find my questions very simple and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP 97 

ordinary. I know nothing about your religion, any 
religioa I probably wouldn't care about it even if I 
did understand it, but I*d like to know anything there 
is to be learned. I dare say it's only idle curiosity/' 

He looked at her from beneath his droopmg eye- 
lids. There was much speculation in his glance, but 
his voice was untinged by any sort of emotion. 

"There really isn't very much to learn, Mrs. Dave- 
nant. My faith is so little a matter of words, and 
so much a matter of deeds, that it is impossible to 
deal with it in a mere, casual conversation. If you 
want words, I can sum it up in one — ^Love. Please 
don't expect too much of me. I'll do what I can when 
you're ready, but my whole life is one long regret for 
my poverty of achievement, and that poverty is, I 
suppose, all the more apparent to me because twice 
to-day I've been in the presence of those about to say 
farewell to this bewildering and astonishingly beauti- 
ful world. It often comes home to. me how little I 
know, how little I've seen, and how little I've profited 
by my very limited experiences." 

Mrs. Davenant was conscious of a chill. She had 
felt impelled to say what she had by some mental 
conflict within her, which she had not yet classified. 
The vicar had discouraged rather than encouraged 
her. 

"It is understood that what I say to you is in 
strictest confidence," she said rather abruptly. 

"Naturally so. Have no fear, Mrs. Davenant. I 
also expect you, and all to whom I speak on serious 
matters, to treat such conversations as private." 

There was silence between them for a moment or 
two, then she spoke again. 

I suppose we really are expected to profit by our 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



98 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

experiences, but it*s awfully difRcult. You see, it's 
so hard to regret having been happy." 

*'You mean even at the expense of others?" he 
questioned. "I think that's very human, and, after 
all, what are we but human? I should like to have 
profited more by my sojourn here, and yet I'm so self- 
seeking that I'U be glad when my hour strikes. I'm 
frightfully keen to see the other side of the veil. My 
curiosity is intense. I've been balked of rich experi- 
ences and high endeavor, but I've still got the supreme, 
the crowning experience, which no one can ever take 
from me." 

Hilda laughed. "Well, don't be in such a frantic 
hurry to gratify your curiosity. You've got to in- 
struct me first, and I'm sure there are many who love 
you." 

"Many!" His voice was dubious. "Why should 
they? I know there are some, thank^God. The sad- 
dest thought for me would be not to be loved. I 
hope a few will love me as long as I 'live," he ended 
quietly. 

"But you would put your religion before love?" 
she asked. 

"My religion is love, Mrs. Davenant. It stimulates 
and enjoins love, since only through love can the high- 
er spiritual attributes of our nature be developed. We 
say Love is God and God is Love, but there is a won- 
derful little prayer of a Kempis, 'Heal my heart of all 
inordinate affection, that I, being healed within and 
thoroughly purified, may be made fit to love.' I have 
come to be very shy of taking the word love in vain, 
for I really know nothing at all about it, except that 
it is God." 

"Do you really believe that?" she asked gravely. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP 99 

"Why, then, does love bring such penalties? There 
is something wrong somewhere. You know that with- 
out legal sanction love between woman and man is 
called a sin. No matter how much her mate by suit- 
ability and instinct a man may be, the woman may 
not give him the natural fulfillment of her love without 
the benediction of Church and law, yet" — she uttered 
a sharp laugh of inutterable scorn — "and yet there 
are women who ask and receive the blessings of the 
Church on a marriage which is a palpable black lie, 
a mockery of love, and therefore, according to your 
beliefs, a mockery of God. Such unions are notfiing 
but legalized prostitution. The woman who really 
loves a man demands to be completed in him, else she 
is not worthy the name of woman. She demands 
that, no matter how things are in heaven, she shall be 
bound to her love by the earthly tie of the flesh." 

Her voice vibrated with strong feeling, and as he 
watched her closely he saw the delicate color deepen 
on her cheeks, but his voice was utterly unemotional 
as he answered — 

"And that woman would be right." 

She threw back her head, and there was a swift chal- 
lenge in all her attitude. 

"Surely you would not say that in all cases?" 

"There is a very simple rule, Mrs. Davenant, that 
all of us can follow. If our love cannot obtain the 
benediction of the Church, then, before condemning 
the Church, let us ask of ourselves this simple question : 
In giving my love in its entirety shall I wrong any 
fellow-creature by so doing? If, after really serious 
consideration the answer can be honestly given in the 
negative, then I should certainly say such lives are 
justified in union. Let us remember in speaking of 



918177^oogle 



lOO THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

the penalties of love that love means self-sacrifice, and 
self-sacrifice means shouldering the cross/' 

She flashed her answer back in a gay swift defi- 
ance. 

"And I say that in the highest regions of human 
feelings the law, whether of Church or State, is utterly 
out of place." 

Their eyes met full. He smiled into hers. He did 
not look in the least shocked. 

"I take that to be so," he replied, simply. 

They fell to silence, having reached a point where 
words hinder rather than help thought. They Were 
alone in a meadow filled with peaceful grazing crea- 
tures. In the distance rose the square Norman tower 
of Great Glentworth chtu-ch. Suddenly she spoke again. 

"If you are such a believer in love, why have you 
never married? Don't answer if you'd rather not 
I realize my impertinence." 

He smiled suddenly as he met her bright, question- 
ing eyes. 

"I don't mind telling you in the least, more espe- 
cially as I don't want you to labor under any mis- 
apprehension as to my character. I'm awfully human, 
with a man's normal passions and cravings for 
woman, home and children, but during my mother's 
life I was bound to other human service." 

"But your mother is dead," she ventured gently. 

"Yes! She died seven years ago. She lived to 
a great age, and left my sister Emily to me. She had 
come through a great sorrow. Death took her lover. 
When I found myself free I realized how time had 
passed. It was almost too late for marriage, and my 
sister and my wife might not have got on under the 
sisime roof. Another, and perhaps the primary reason, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAL GOSSIP loi 

Mrs. Davenant. When I was more or less free to 
contract earthly ties I found — ^well! I had grown into 
the fixed habit of pouring out all my very humble 
adoration at the feet of the God I seek to serve/' 

"I think you have been sacrificed to your family, 
Mr. Warburton. Such adoration as you speak of 
lacks the human touch, and you are very human.'' 

She saw a wave of color sweep over his face. 

"Oh! indeed you misunderstand. I am very hu- 
man, but no one who has not experienced it can know 
what the love of God can be to a lonely man. A 
love 'closer is it than breathing; nearer than hands 
and feet.' " 

Then for a while both were silent again as they 
neared the village. 

"You'll come in some time and have a quiet chat 
with me?" she asked, as they shook hands at the cross 
roads. 

"Whenever I can be of service to you only let me 
know and appoint the hour," he answered, and with 
that they parted. 

"What can her life have been?" he wondered, as 
he walked on towards home. "She's a type I've never 
met with before. Knows nothing of any religion, 
and wants to learn. I wonder? Certainly my in- 
stinct to be slightly discouraging was a wise one. 
Any signs of eagerness on my part would have made 
her swing round in the opposite direction. What's 
she going to do in Great Glentworth? Make history 
for us, of that at least I'm certain." 

"Tea is ready," called a voice through the open 
window. 

He entered the Vicarage and walked straight into 
the parlor where his sister stood before the tea-tray. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



I02 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

She might have been his twin in petticoats. A tall, 
dignified, and even stately figure in the shadowy room, 
with thick iron-gray hair, dark eyes and rather large, 
finely cut features. Great strength of character was 
the impression the brother and sister conveyed to even 
the most casual observer. 

"How is old Miles?" she asked. 

Warburton sat down at the table and helped him- 
self to bread and butter. 

"Going fast, but quite happy and contented, as 
they all are at the very last. Lucky beggar, hell 
know all about it before to-morrow morning. I met 
Mrs. Davenant in Miles' meadow and walked back 
with her." 

"Mrs. Davenant! Well?" There was a note of 
keen questioning in her voice. Emily Warburton was 
deeply interested in the newcomers. 

Her brother laughed frankly. "Well? What more? 
That's all there is to it, I know no more than you 
do." 

"She's a profoiuid mystery," said Emily with con- 
viction. 

"It's not our business to probe it." 

"Luckily not," retorted his sister rather 
drily. "Oh I What a bother. Here comes Mrs. 
Luckett." 

A silence fell, only to be broken a minute after 
when the caller was shown in, 

"I just ran in for a second to tell you Fve some 
old clothes for you to distribute in the parish," ex- 
claimed Mrs. Luckett, accepting the chair and the 
tea Warburton set before her. "If you could kindly 
manage to send for them. Oh! by the way, I've just. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAt GOSSIP 103 

met the Little Glentworth mystery in the village, look- 
ing more mysterious than ever." 

''I take that to mean that Mrs. Davenant was look* 
ing if possible more beautiftil than ever/' suggested 
Warburton with a slow smile. 

Mrs. Luckett flushed all over her gaunt cheek 
bones. 

"I don't quite catch your meaning/' she retorted 
austerely, and with a slightly offended air. 

"Do you think if Mrs. Davenant had been a very 
plain woman any one would have suspected a mystery 
in connection with her?" asked Warburton. 

Mrs. Luckett considered the question seriously. 
Not finding any answer worthy the occasion she 
said — 

"But I donH consider her so beautiful, and Fm 
only echoing what every one else says, that she's a 
mystery. My Sarah is an old friend of the Little 
Glentworth kitchen-maid's mother, and she says there 
isn't a single photo, or anything at all Isring about to 
hint at who or what the late Mr. Davenant was like. 
You must own that's rather suspicious?" 

"I should be inclined to put that down to extreme 
sensitiveness, Mrs. Luckett. The lady in question 
does not desire to have her sacred memories exposed 
to the prying gaze of the public. Le portrait que Ton 
ne voit pas est le seul qui compte." 

Mrs. Luckett eyed the vicar suspiciously, but could 
detect no trace of sly humor in his grave face and 
voice. She understood no French and mistrusted 
those who did. She turned to chaff by way of escape, 
and shook her scraggy head and forefinger roguishly. 

"Ah, Vicar! I fear you are very much of a man." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



I04 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

He was laughing now with genuine amusement. 
"I sincerely hope so, Mrs. Luckett; but why 'fear* 
to pay me such a compliment? I'm all for womanly 
women and manly men.** 

"Well, anyhow," exclaimed the lady by way of 
winding up that particular subject of conversation, 
"they say Major Carlton's very much on the spot, 
and that Mrs. Davenant cares for nothing but men. 
This place is simply teeming with mysteries. There's 
the Lake House mystery. What do you make of that 
now. Vicar?" 

"I've never made anything of it but the not un- 
common eccentricities of a lonely old man," smiled 
Warburton. 

"But look how the plot has thickened lately!" ex- 
claimed Mrs. Luckett. 

"I wasn't aware of it." 

Mrs. Luckett shrugged her shoulders with irritable 
impatience, and turned her bade on him. 

"Your brother is in one of his stone-wall moods 
this afternoon," she said to Emily Warburton. "You 
are, of course, aware that a young lady has come to 
live at the Lake House, and report says she is very 
friendly indeed with the heir, young Mr. Thorpe." 

Emily smiled delightfully. "I'm so glad to hear 
that. It must be very lonely and depressing for any 
young creature to live alone with such a peculiar old 
man as Mr. Thorpe. I think Harry Thorpe is particu- 
larly attractive. He's not only very good looking but 
he's such a good sort." 

Mrs. Luckett looked down on her plate and crum- 
bled a piece of bread thoughtfully. 

"It seems a curious position, doesn't it? No 
chaperone, and those two alone together all day long. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LOCAi: GOSSIP 105 

Now, in my young days such things weren't done in 
decent society." 

"Ah! we live and learn, Mrs. Luckett. Where 
is decent society found? It is surely one of those 
suppositious conditions of life which no nation has yet 
achieved. Have you ever found a monopoly of good- 
ness in any one particular sect ? Do try some honey. 
Our bees have done so well this year," urged Emily; 
and then she adroitly turned the conversation into less 
contentious lines, much to the vicar's relief. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER IX 
AGNES Howard's secret 

AFTER Mrs. Luckett had taken her departure 
Warburton retired to his study, arid his sister 
proceeded to wash the tea dishes with the help of her 
little maid. 

Emily Warburton worshiped lovely things, and 
it was a pleasure to her to use the old Worcester cups 
and saucers, and keep burnished the old Georgian and 
Queen Anne plate. She put to daily use all the few 
beautiful articles the house contained, and she took 
care of them personally. There were never any do- 
mestic troubles at the Vicarage, because the two 
maids were well aware of the big share their mistress 
took in the household work. 

Miss Warburton's life was in many respects a 
narrow and restricted one, but she was a very happy 
woman, despite the fact that her heart was buried in 
the grave of her dead lover. She had never sighed 
after any other man, resigning herself to her memories, 
and the duties of her daily life in her brother's parish. 

She adored Ambrose, and insensibly, since her loss, 
her love for him had become more maternal than 
sisterly. His welfare was the first consideration of her 
earthly life, and she would willingly have relinquished 
her position, as mistress of the Vicarage, had she seen 
any symptoms of a desire on his part to marry. She 

io6 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 107 

had detected none. Attractive young women of her 
own class seemed non-existent in the neighborhood, 
and it had never occurred to her that his fancy might 
fall upon some rosy-cheeked farmer's daughter. 

The Warburtons had blue blood in their veins, and 
the consciousness of this doubtless worked as a bar- 
rier to misalliance, though there was no sign of pride 
of birth to be detected in either brother or sister. 

Emily had no conception of that which Ambrose 
hid so skillfully from her, his putting aside of all 
thought of marriage on her account. Now, as he sat 
in his study alone, he took himself severely to task for 
the small admissions he had made to Mrs. Davenant. 
He was pondering over the conversation that had 
passed between them, as they strolled across the fields, 
and he remembered with sudden shock that he had 
spoken of something which hitherto he had kept secret 
in his own breast. He had told her that after his 
mother's death Emily had become his special charge, 
and that death had also robbed her of her lover. Mrs. 
Davenant had replied, "I think you have been sacri- 
ficed to your family." Supposing this should reach 
the ears of Emily, what would she think of him? It 
was unlikely that Mrs. Davenant would betray his 
rash confidences, yet, on the other hand, she might do 
so. He did not place much reliance upon her discre- 
tion. He felt he hardly knew her, she was so illusive. 
There was nothing simple in her confidences to him, 
always he was conscious of big reservations. A wave 
of color, due to pure annoyance with self, flooded his 
cheeks. He rose and began to move restlessly about 
the shadowy old room. 

He could not understand himself, or how he had 
ever been led to make such dangerous admissions. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



io8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Never, even to so dear and old a friend zs Mrs. Carl- 
ton, had he confessed as much, and Mrs. Davenant had 
parted from him in the belief that he had been sacri- 
ficed to his family. 

That was not true, and he hated untruth. He knew 
that if he had ever really loved a woman well enough 
to ask her to marry him, he would have permitted 
nothing to stand in his way. It was true that he had 
thrust aside all thoughts of marriage, because of his 
sister, but he had never really been tempted to act 
otherwise. Life, in that respect, had been made very 
easy for him. He rarely left home, and here he had 
met no woman whom he would have cared to install in 
the Vicarage as wife. 

Suddenly he pulled himself up sharply, and stood 
still in the middle of the room, staring into vacancy. 
Was it literally true that he had seen no woman whom 
he could remotely conceive of as a desirable wife? A' 
curious self -revelation was welling up within him. 
It seemed to arise from unplumbed, enormous depths, 
to be the insistent revelation of another and deeper 
self clamoring to be heard, and slowly it took mental 
shape in the form of a woman — ^Agnes Howard! 

"Let the counsel of thine own heart stand, for there 
is no man more faithful unto thee than it." 

The words from the Apocrypha floated through his 
brain, as he stood there staring through the open win- 
dow to where a thrush was joyously bathing in a 
stone basin on the lawn. The beauty of the physical 
world struck potently upon those new revelations, 
bringing with them a wild gambler's zest in the ap- 
preciation of their fleeting tendencies. 

Agnes Howard! Yes, he had liked her from the 
first, and he had seen a good deal of her from time to 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 109 

time, since her arrival in their midst. She had con- 
tracted quite a warm friendship with Emily. The 
two women "hit it off," as he expressed to himself 
their apparent sentiments. He had seen much more 
of Miss Howard than of Mrs. Davenant. They were 
of totally different natures. There was a lightness 
and frivolity about the latter that was lacking in her 
companion. Agnes Howard suggested greater self- 
reliance and steadiness, and she had shown to him 
that she possessed a deep fund of S3rmpathy, and con- 
siderable worldly knowledge. 

Yes! he had been greatly attracted towards her 
from the first, and now he knew that this attraction 
was developing into something infinitely warmer. 
Subconsciously he had been aware of this. Now the 
knowledge had crept over the threshold, and arrested 
the startled attention of his ordinary winking con- 
sciousness. 

For a moment or two he abandoned himself to its 
sweetness, telling himself, what matter — she was un- 
attainable; and besides, had he not decided never to 
marry ? Surely he might give rein to his imagination 
for a few moments? Surely he might dream of what 
such a love would mean in his gray life? 

Then a little serpent of fear crawled about his 
heart. His gray life! Supposing this new feeling 
grew into unmanageable dimensions? Supposing a 
love developed in him which was stronger than his 
self-control? What then? 

His gray life! Did he really think thus of his 
pleasant, leisurely existence? Was a man's life neces- 
sarily gray if bereft of the love of woman? 

The answer flashed back instantly, unhesitatingly, 
Yes! It was true. Gray was the soft, sober color 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



no THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

of peace, of the dove's wing. A lovely, meditative 
tone. Really the absence of color, but — it was half 
mourning. 

Life to be full and perfect must be tinged with 
rose. He could think of married lives that had begun 
in clouds of rose, and now had faded into old rose. 
An exquisite color, reminiscent of by-gone loves and 
joys, of loves sobered by age and life's realities, but 
still rose. Faded tints of love's yoimg dream which 
he had never known. 

The old saw recurred to him, "It's better to have 
loved and lost than never to have loved at all." 

He took up his pipe, filled and lighted it mechani- 
cally, and sat down in an armchair by the empty grate, 
then he fell to wondering about Agnes Howard's life. 
Why had she never married? Had she loved and 
lost.*^ A woman so obviously desirable must have had 
many lovers. She was still very handsome, once she 
must have been beautiful. Some very strong reason 
must have held her single. What was the mysteryx 
lying at the heart of those two lives dwelling within 
the old Dower House? Some mystery he was sure 
did exist, though he had never dreamed of probing 
it, and discouraged the belief in others of its existence. 
He had become very sensitive of late to all idle gossip 
relating to the two ladies. Now he knew why, and 
he shrank back from the knowledge as a new bom 
discovery with which he dreaded to deal. 

He stared about the shadowy, paneled room, and 
the twilight silence of it struck him suddenly as a 
rousing sensation, more tr)ang to his nervous organiza- 
tion than any jangling would have been at the moment. 

For the first time in his life the lack of marital 
relations smote his brain with a strong sense of per- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET in 

sonal loss. "Man was not made to live alone." The 
words surged through him, as if clamoring to imprint 
their true meaning, which even yet he hardly realized. 

He had lived a placid and ascetic life, thoroughly 
healthy and free from morbid longings — ^the life of 
an unthinking animal, afar from temptation. Suddenly 
he seemed to feel the need of a soul's companionship. 
A crowd of confused sensations assailed him, doubt, 
haippiness, misery, wrangling together discordantly. 
His soul, aspiring always towards spirituality, was pro- 
testing against the material instincts of the body. 
From out the peaceful unthinking past had sprung up 
a new set of impressions, electrical, and to him terri- 
fying in their persistency. His nervous system was 
unhinged, something foreign had entered in and was 
making itself strongly felt. 

A new side of his nature had slidden uppermost, 
which the religious temper of his life had Hdden him 
suppress. Human nature, deeming it a crime that 
violence should be done to its strict fidelity, was in- 
sidiously pointing out hazardous and pernicious 
courses. 

In his scrupulous idealism he had always looked 
upon himself as a part of a great faith, which had 
grown through and through his life, as the roots of a 
tree bind themselves round some finite structure. Sud- 
denly his foundations were shaken from under him, 
and a vision almost beatific of new possibilities of life, 
opened out before the rent secrecies of his soul. 

It seemed to him that he had paid too high a price 
for the life of celibacy he had lived. He had sacri- 
ficed a myriad sympathies and hypothetical joys. 

"At last I know what it would mean to live," he 
whispered below his breath. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



112 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT , 

Only the pregnant silence answered him, and as its 
voiceless echoes eddied round the room the dark cur- 
tain fell again. Life was gray. 

A pause — ^voices were drifting in to him from the 
garden. He stiffened, listening intently. Then he 
leapt to his feet, and taking his hat, he passed through 
the back of the house into the village. 

Meanwhile Emily Warburton had strolled out 
amongst her flowers, and began gathering a nosegay 
of everything sweet she could find. She was a noted 
gardener, and the work of her hands and the joy of 
her heart was one of those things visitors in the 
neighborhood were always taken to see in the time 
of the roses. 

To-night she was intent upon a little service of love 
she constantly offered up, and with her scissors she 
carefully cut off two white moss roses and added them 
to her bunch. 

"May I join you for a few moments?" 

Emily glanced up and met the smiling eyes of Miss 
Howard fixed upon her from the far side of the sweet- 
briar hedge. 

"Why, of course, do come in. Have you had 
tea?" 

Agnes replied that she had, and was out for a stroll 
in the cool of the evening. 

"I've been getting rid of a headache all day, and 
Hilda was tired. She's been off on one of her long 
tramps, so I sallied forth alone," she said, passing 
through the little wicket and joining Emily on the 
wide turf walk. She threw up her head and smiled 
appreciatively. 

"How heavenly! All the scents blended together 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 113 

make one absolutely perfect perfume which I suppose 
can never be bottled. Are you making a bouquet for 
some one?'' 

"Yes, Fm making a bouquet for some one, to whom 
I always give my best. I'm going to take it to him in 
A moment. Will you come? It isn't far." 

"I'd love to come," Miss Howard answered as she 
moved about amongst the flowers, bending over the 
tall lilies, then over the roses and drinking in their 
fragrance. 

Agnes Howard was looking very weU in a perfectly 
cut hoUand coat and skirt. In the creamy laces at 
her breast she had fastened a bunch of crimson roses. 
On her dark hair was set a wide-brimmed leghorn hat, 
trimmed with a simple black velvet band. Emily 
noted the supreme elegance of her companion's attire, 
but with no touch of envy. She was quite aware that 
her simple cotton frocks were of rustic cut and make, 
but that never disturbed her. She was always exqui- 
sitely neat, but she had no natural love of fine clothes 
for herself, though she immensely admired those worn 
by other people. 

"I'm ready now," she called softly to the idly stroll- 
ing figure at a little distance. 

The old gray Vicarage stood on rising ground which 
looked across a softly undulating valley. The Great 
Glentworth woods sheltered it behind from the north- 
ern blasts. The southern frontage looked out over a 
wide expanse of copse, pasture land, and winding river. 

Closely adjoining the house was the little Norman 
church, with its low arched roof, its quaint carvings, 
its solid square tower — ^its round-headed leaded win- 
dows. 

The two women took a short cut by a path leading 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



114 THE BEAUTIFUU MRS. DAVENANT 

to the churchyard, dark with the shadows of venerable 
yews> yet singularly peaceful in the golden glory of 
the autumn evening, and as they walked up the narrow 
path between liiany an tmnamed grass-grown grave, 
Emily paused and bent her head. For ten years she 
had never failed to pause there in passing. When 
first she had bent her head before the white cross 
her hair had been glossy, black as the raven's wing, 
now it was banded with white, white as the marble 
upon which was inscribed : — 

"To the undying memory of 

*'Clifton Carew, 

"Major, i8th Hussars." 

"There is no Death I What seems so is transition; 
This life of mortal breath 
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian, 
Whose portal we call Death." 

Both women stood in silence looking down on the 
grave, Agnes Howard reading the inscription for the 
first time. 

**Did you know him?" she asked gently. 

Emily had stooped to pick up a bunch of fading 
flowers that lay on the green mound. She laid her 
fresh nosegay in its place and straightened herself. 

"Yes! I knew him well, and loved him dearly. 
We were to have been married, but he died a fortnight 
before our wedding day." 

She was smiling, and her voice was just the same, 
calm and composed, but for a few seconds Agnes 
Howard gazed at her in absolute confusion. Then, 
she felt herself in the throes of a great emotion. When 
she came to search for words she could find none that 
were consecutive. The reality of the tragedy over- 
whelmed speech. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 115 

*'I had not heard. I had no idea that such a sorrow 
had fallen upon your life," she stammered. 

Emily was speaking again in her quiet, unemotional 
way. *'He was the only man I have ever cared for. 
He caught a chill after saving two children who had 
fallen through the ice at the edge of the river. It was 
a very hard winter that year, and though he changed 
into dry clothes almost at once, pneumonia set in and 
nothing could be done. I sat by him in the Vicarage 
and saw him die. That is my life's story, a very simple 

and common one, but, for me Well, it meant just 

this. All the heart I possessed was in his keeping. It 
is his still, and will be his, I believe, throughout eter- 
nity. So many women live happily on with their dead 
hopes and faded memories. Mary of old time must 
have been one of these. I have always felt how deeply 
she loved Our Lord. She gave all she had, her sacri- 
ficial love in a flask of fragrant ointment, poured out 
on the feet of her beloved who died a few hours after 
for the sins of the world." 

Agnes Howard's eyes were clouded by unshed tears. 
Not those of sorrow, but bom of the sharp vibrations 
running through her, of another memory — of her own. 
There fell a silence between them, then Emily spoke 
again. 

"Don't look so sad. I don't know why I brought 
you here or why I told you this. I acted on a sudden 
impulse, born of some innate sympathy I find in you. 
It always seems so strange to me that such fidelity to 
love as I own for my lover, and he owns for me, should 
be counted a morbid sentimentality rather than a vir- 
tue. Alas! the world is still a very long way from 
grasping the full meaning of immortality. It is as if 
the so-called dead have, since the world began, beaten 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



ii6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

fruitlessly against the iron walls of the human breast, 
their entreaties falling on deaf ears, their memories 
hidden away under the weight of costly stone and 
marble in the cemeteries of the world. How cruel it 
seems to let the beloved souls go out into the unknown, 
mourned by futile tears which dry so soon and are so 
soon forgotten. Have you ever thought, Agnes, how 
sadly the departed must mourn over the broken bridge, 
deliberately severed by those remaining on earth?*' 

*'I can understand such thoughts coming to you," 
replied Miss Howard earnestly. 

"They are thoughts coming to many more now, 
since the war desolated so many homes," went on 
Emily. "It was whilst I stood by this open grave 
on a clear winter morning, whilst I looked down into 
the tomb where they had lowered the coffin, that some^ 
thing bade my thoughts look up and my heart gave 
a sudden throb of joy. I had looked on death, and 
death had looked back and smiled on me from a land 
full of life and vigor, love, and sunshine, and I real- 
ized that life and death are one. I knew I had not 
left my beloved lying there cold and alone, and I no 
longer felt the same towards the freshly made grave. 
Never again did I call death by the name it was known 
by on our earth, for it no longer symbolized to me 
tombs and corpses. It was given to me to know that 
death is not death to the dying, but only to the blind 
ones left behind." 

They stood silent and very still a moment or two, 
amid the singing of the birds. A lark had carried its 
music out of sight high up against a gray cloud, as 
larks so often do before gathering and departing, and 
as they listened to the exquisite rain of song Emily 
spoke again very softly. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 117 

"Yes! I am faithful and ready when God wills/* 
Had her words found their home? It seemed to 
Agnes Howard that she could not doubt. She smiled 
suddenly, her eyes filled with a glad acquiescence, 
then she threw out her hands in one of her sudden 
graceful gestures. 

"Ah ! how good it is to know you. To know how 
faithful a woman's heart can be, and how happy that 
faithfulness can make its possessor. Ours is really 
the S3mipathy of a common sorrow, which, in our 
different ways, we have outlived. I suffered a similar 
loss, though it did not come about in a similar manner." 

Emily bent her head in comprehension and slipped 
her arm into her companion's. 

"Let us stroll quietly on for a little. It's so good 
to have some one to confide in. I have never really had 
any one before. I try never to talk on sad subjects 
to Ambrose. So you lost your lover also, Agnes?" 

"Yes, he left me for another woman whom he 
ultimately married. That marriage only endured a 
year. I was then living with my brother in Washing- 
ton. I continued to live on with him till he also died. 
Since then Mrs. Davenant and I have been insq)arable 
companions." 

"You never thought of marrying any one else?" 
asked Emily. 

Miss Howard shook her head. "Never! This 
man treated me shamefully, yet at first I cared so 
much for him that I promised to be his wife. He 
killed all love out of me, and for years after I despised 
and disliked all men. I've got over that now. I'm 
alone in the world, my parents and brother are dead. 
I don't expect ever to see America again." 

"But you are not American?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



ii8 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

"No, we are British bom, but my brother became 
an American citizen. I adored him, and looked after 
him as you look after your brother. He died un- 
married. Why, is his secret, not mine." 

"But you are happy now, are you not?" asked 
Emily rather anxiously. "I am quite happy, and cheer- 
ful, mothering Ambrose." 

Miss Howard laughed rather mirthlessly. "Oh I 
yes, quite happy, even though I've got no Ambrose 
to mother. I wonder he's never married. I suppose 
you make him so comfortable he doesn't feel the need 
of a wife?" 

"He's never seen a woman he cared to marry," 
declared Emily with conviction. "I would not have 
stood in his way if he ever had, I don't suppose he'll 
ever marry now, bless him." 

They had reached the gates of Little Glentworth, 
and she paused and held out her hand. 

"We are agreed that our conversation shall be re- 
garded as absolutely private?" she asked. 

"Yes," answered Miss Howard. "I would not have 
spoken as I have, if I hadn't felt you were to bie 
trusted. Good-night, Emily." 

"Good-night, Agnes." 

Miss Warburton had walked on but a very few 
steps when she heard her name called softly, and 
turning round, she perceived Agnes Howard running 
back to her. 

"Emily," she whispered rather breathlessly. "I feel 
there is one person whom I should like to share my 
confidence with you. I know he is so entirely trust- 
worthy." 

"My brother!" Emily knew instantly to whom 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S SECRET 119 

Agnes referred. It seemed to her a very natural feel- 
ing. Every one told their secrets to Ambrose. 

"It shall be^as you wish, dear. He is absolutely 
trustworthy," she answered. 

With a smile and a wave of her hand Miss Howard 
walked quickly away. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER X 
LORD Lester's advice 

MAJOR CARLTON was enjoying one of his little 
week-end shooting parties. Only eight guns 
made up of four brother officers, himself and three 
neighbors. There were sixteen people stopping in the 
house altogether, the number Claude considered just 
right. Not a crowd ; yet enough to amuse one another. 

They had enjoyed excellent sport on Saturday, and 
now a bright October Sunday intervened. The shoot- 
ing was to be renewed on Monday, and on Tuesday 
most of the guests would depart. It was Qaude's 
last week of leave, and he was due back with his regi- 
ment on Saturday week. That morning the mother 
and son had conveyed several of their guests to church, 
amongst others Lord Lester. 

Lord Lester was a man who had achieved European 
fame, not indeed because of his own gifts, but because 
of his untiring interest in the gifts of others. He 
had been a diplomat by profession, but temperamen- 
tally he was so utterly unsuited to any work which 
necessitated holding his tongue, that after a short and 
hot career he retired into private freedom again, and 
gave free rein to his natural verbosity. He was as 
well known in certain European capitals as he was in 
London; he rarely saw the interior of the Lords, and 
never made a public speech that he could possibly 

120 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 121 

avoid. He had never written anything but a couple of 
volumes of very indiscreet reminiscences, and he knew 
the histories, public and private, of half the celebrated 
males and females in Europe. His memory was well 
nigh perfect, upon the particular subjects which really 
interested him. 

The Carltons were renowned in pre-war days for 
"doing** their guests very well. They had now re- 
constructed on the old lines. There had been the 
usual admirable breakfast served from nine to ten 
o'clock, and the usual groaning board at one-thirty 
luncheon. After which the party had split up and 
gone their different ways to work off the consequences 
of heavy indulgence, and prepare itself for afternoon 
tea and eight o'clock dinner. It was towards half- 
past three that Claude, strolling alone on the terrace, 
came upon his uncle doing likewise. As usual Lester 
was perfectly turned out. He was a very tall, ex- 
tremely thin man, who gave the impression of being 
strung on live wires. He was rarely quiet for more 
than five minutes at a time, and rarely remained in one 
house for longer than three days. He hated being: 
alone, and ran up to his nephew with palpable relief. 

"Ah! my boy! This is opportune," he exclaimed^ 
linking his arm in Claude's. "You're game for a 
walk, aren't you? We've had no exercise to-day, and 
we've got dinner looming ahead. By the way, how 
excellent that homard d la creme was at lunch. Hope 
you'll stick to this cook, she's a ripper. The smoking^- 
room's full of lazy devils snoring disgustingly, and 
the women have all gone to scratch the pig's back 
with your mother. I wish we were all as ready to die 
as your Tamworths. The fact is, Claudie, I want to 
makeacalL" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



122 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"A call!'' echoed his nephew blankly. 'Who the 
deuce do you want to call upon?" 

'^Mrs. Davenant," returned Lester with a confi- 
dential drop in his voice. 

"You know her, tiien, do you?" exclaimed Carlton, 
with surprise and interest. 

"I believe I've met her. I recognized her in church 
this morning. Wonderful how one meets people in 
the most out-of-the-way unexpected places. One of 
the most beautiful women I ever knew, I rescued 
out of a leaking boat on the Danube. We were both 
quite alone. I've no doubt Mrs. Davenant will re- 
member me, besides she's tenant of your Dower 
House, and I was your guardian. I really think it 
would be only civil to call." 

Claude required no pressing, but he smiled inward- 
ly at the feebleness of the excuses. 

"Right you are! Let's start at once," he answered, 
and with one accord they turned, and made for the 
short cut across the fields to Little Glentworth. 

"I didn't mention to your mother my desire to 
visit those two ladies," Lester went on to confide to 
his nephew, as they walked briskly along. "I thought 
it better not, until I had formed an opinion of my 
own. I didn't detect any particular signs of enthusi- 
asm when I referred to the presence of Mrs. Davenant 
and her friend in church. I didn't pursue the subject^ 
recollecting that I had no personal impression to fall 
back upon. I hope to be able to speak of them in 
future as everything that is delightful and correct" 

"You met them in London, I suppose," hazarded 
Claude, who was secretly irritated by the tinge of 
doubt conveyed in his uncle's voice. He did not know 
that Lester was given to assuming that he knew every 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 123 

one, till events proved the contrary, and that he then 
formed a new friendship on discovering it was not 
an old one. 

"Somewhere in town, I really forget where, for 
the moment," he muttered vaguely; "but, of course, 
Mrs. Davenant was a well-known figure in a certain, 
clique of London society. Not, be it understood, in 
our real old aristocracy, but in that delightful suburb 
of the old, where extremes meet, and where the pace 
is often a little too hot to last. I think also, I remem- 
ber her at Marienbad, or was it Karlsbad? I really 
forget. You are satisfied with her as a neighbor?" 

"I find both ladies delightful. I also had heard of 
the beautiful Mrs. Davenant in London, but I never 
chanced to meet her. She and my mother seem to 
hit it off all right together." 

"Sibyl would," retorted Lester dogmatically. "She 
is a thoroughly sensible woman, and doesn't concern 
herself with the private affairs of others. I suppose 
Mrs. Davenant has never mentioned her late husband 
to you?" 

"Never! Why should she?" 

"Why, indeed, dear boy. There is probably every 
reason why she should not. Mrs. Davenant arrived 
in London a certain number of years ago with what 
I might call a Near-Eastern reputation. No one knew 
her except through having met her in fashionable 
Continental resorts. The Continental watering-places 
where one encounters delightful English people, with 
whom one soon becomes intimate if one is rich, and 
who fexpress the hope of meeting again in London* 
From such beginnings the beautiful Mrs. Davenant 
picked up quite a respectable circle when she arrived 
in London, and settled down in the West End before 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



124 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

the war. No doubt she formed an inner circle for 
her own amusement, that is very simply arranged, 
but up to now she has preserved a certain bulwark of 
stark respectability, upon which she could always fall 
back. That interests me. It shows cleverness. Such 
bulwarks are becoming very thin, owing to constant 
encroachments from without. They are like our old 
sea walls, constantly crumbling. Now, one may say, 
they are down." 

Carlton did not reply. He was conscious of a 
strong resentment rising within him. 

Why the deuce did every one hint at some mystery 
connected with Mrs. Davenant? Probably the only 
reason why she didn't mention her husband was be- 
cause he had been a damned blackguard, and her only 
desire was to forget him. Though his mind was con- 
stantly occupied with other things the memory of Mrs. 
Davenant at odd moments had been frequently shining 
through at him, and he was conscious of an interest 
in her which surprised him, and which he tried to 
stifle. 

He contrived to divert Lester's attention from the 
controversial subject until they came in sight of Little 
Glentworth, lying sleepily silent in the blaze of a red 
October sunset. In another five minutes they found 
themselves being ushered into the drawing-room, and 
into the presence of both ladies. 

Mrs. Davenant was seated in the window, a yellow- 
backed novel in her hand. Miss Howard was frankly 
sleeping on the sofa. She moved slowly into a sitting 
posture, in no way disturbed at being caught napping, 
whilst Mrs. Davenant rose to receive her guests with 
her flashing smile and air of charming cordiality. 

"What energy!" she exclaimed. "Church in the 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 125 

morning, and a two-mile walk in the afternoon. Do 
sit down. Lord Lester. You say we've met before. 
That is very probable. Where was it? At Homburg? 
Every one used to meet there." 
I Lester had sunk into the depths of an armchair Be- 
side that of his hostess. 

' *'Yes! at Homburg. Of course I instantly recog- 
nized you in church this morning, and I said to myself, 
'Bless my soul, surely that's the beautiful Mrs. DaVe- 
nant?' Of course I knew that a lady of that name 
had taken Little Glentworth, but I had not realized 
that it was the Mrs. Davenant. The worst of meeting 
a beautiful woman is that one forgets all about the 
circumstances in the vividness of the fact. So you've 
actually settled down in the depths of the country. 
Dear me, what a change to be sure !" 

"It's a very happy change," Mrs. Davenant assured 
him. "Both of us were getting rather bored by town 
life. Everything is made so very unpleasant now„ 
what with the food scrimmage and the constant la- 
bor troubles, and here we've no feeling of being bur- 
ied. One can always get away. I delight in Little 
Glentworth and all its surroundings." 

Lester glanced round him carelessly; as a matter 
of fact, nothing his eye lit upon remained unnoticed. 

"Unfortunately one must live somewhere. I try 
hard to live nowhere. I prefer to be sur la hranche, 
but my sister, who is supposed to keep house for me,. 
likes a settled habitation, which I return to at inter- 
vals." 

Meanwhile Carlton had settled down to make him- 
self agreeable to Miss Howard, and he did not fail 
to remark, as she sat up rather languidly on the sofa, 
that the curves of her figure were exceedingly grace- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



126 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

f ul, and her welcome as cordial as that of Mrs. Dave- 
nant, only more subdued and ethereal. She was in-, 
deed a very striking-looking woman, and instinct with 
a graciousness which showed itself in every move- 
ment, and focused itself in her dark intelligent eyes, 
whilst her voice had a pathetic note in it which vi- 
brated with sympathy. 

j "I want to hear about yesterday," she said. "We 
thought of you all lunching out — ^the day was so beau- 
tiful. It was awfully kind of you and Mrs. Carlton 
to ask us to join you, but that sort of thing is hardly 
in our line, and we always think outsiders are looked 
on rather as intruders by a house-party." 

"I don't think either you or Mrs. Davenant ar6 
ever likely to be looked upon in that light," he an- 
swered. '*We had a ripping day's sport, and we 
lunched in a shed erected for the purpose in a field. 
The weather was ideal, we were very dieery, it was a 
good wind-up to my leave. I am off this week." 

"But you'll return again shortly?" 

"I'll get Christmas leave," he told her. "Probably 
I'll get back about the 12th of December. We gen- 
enJly finish off the pheasants then, and I do a bit of 
hunting." 

"You'll be here for Christmas?" he added. 

Miss Howard nodded. "Hilda seems so enamored 
of this place that she has no desire to go away any- 
where. Perhaps, when February comes she'll get her 
^ usual longing for the Riviera. I'm sure I shall." 

"Let's all do a month together at Monte," he sug- 
gested suddenly. "I generally run out there about 
March or for Easter." 

"That would be delightful," she agreed. "By then, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 127 

traveling will be cleaner, and things in general may 
have settled down/' 

He shrugged. "Things won't settle down again in 
our lifetime, Miss Howard. But here one can live 
in tolerable comfort. I blot out the last five years, and 
try to revert to 1914." 

He felt his imagination stirring, as it always did in 
the presence of those two women. They somehow 
suggested to his mind the movements of gay crowds, 
lamp-lit gardens, shady nooks with blazing sunshine 
beyond, a blue sea, and snowy villas nestling amid 
olives. The wild oats of his early youth seemed to 
flourish afresh, whilst all the time he talked trivialities 
about the neighborhood and his coming absence, and 
watched the evening light fall on Agnes Howard's 
slim hands and gracefid form. 

But attractive as she was the room held a still great- 
er attraction for Major Carlton. As he was begin- 
ning to think the visit was rather a waste of time, and 
as he was about to consult his watch, the conversa- 
tion became general. He caught the eye of Mrs. Dave- 
nant, who threw him a very bright glance of encour- 
agement. 

**Lord Lester is a mine of reminiscences," she said. 

Lester gave a modest disclaimer with his hands. 
"Oh ! I keep my eyes and ears open, and everything 
that concerns my fellow creatures interests me. I was 
just about to tell Mrs. Davenant of a most amusing 
supper party we had last week. We sat down twenty, 
and every one of us had been in prison." 

"I never heard that you had done time," laughed 
Carlton. 

"I confess I was rather a fraud amongst genuine 
cases," admitted Lester. "I heard of the party being 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



128 THE beautiful; MRS. DAVENANT 

arranged by an old friend of mine, Mrs. Jessop, old 
Gladbrooke's daughter. She used always to be in and 
out of prison in 1913 and 1914, where prison was the 
rage. I wished to go to the party, but the only claim 
I had was the fact that I had been arrested in Petro- 
grad, in mistake for a well-known anarchist, and did 
twenty-four hours in 'Peter and Paul' till our Em- 
bassy got going. I mentioned the incident in my book, 
■The Indiscretions of a Diplomat' All the other 
guests had an intimate acquaintance with English pris- 
ons, and their antediluvian methods. There was Lady 
Penrose. She had six weeks for throwing squibs into 
letter boxes, and burning all the housemaids' love let- 
ters. Then Willie Waters was there. He had done 
six months for leading a mob down Piccadilly, and 
looting all the shops on the way." 

"How one forgets," laughed Carlton during a pause 
in which Lester recovered his breath. "I remember 
now. He's been a Cabinet Minister since." 

"White-washed and warranted highly respectable," 
went on Lester. "Then Galen Orchard was there. 
He's one of those Irish chaps, always in and out of 
prison, a regular gaol-bird and a most charming fel- 
low. One of our greatest classical scholars. He 
brought with him that very handsome Mrs. O'Connal, 
who's such a revolutionary. She's had at least two 
husbands shot. Then, by the way, Lady Mary Allen 
came. She's a connection of mine. She got three 
months as Mary Brown, but they found out she was an 
earl's daughter, and chucked her out after a week or 
two. Finch, M.P., was another guest. He was once 
sentenced to be hanged, but he continued somehow or 
other to escape, and now he's in sanctuary at West- 
minster. To crown the evening's entertainment Lady 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 129' 

Coleman was carried in on a stretcher decorated with 
suffragette ribbons. She was got up to look as if she'd 
just been released from a hunger strike, under the cat 
and mouse bill." 

"Those thrilling days seem very far removed from 
our present conditions," said Mrs. Davenant. 

"But we'd never have gained the vote without 
them," chimed in Miss Howard. 

Lester shrugged his shoulders. "All those topsy- 
turvy incidents made London so much more amusing 
than it is now. Men home from Russia say they've 
seen nothing so Bolshevist as London. It has all the 
appearance of being the capital of a nation that has 
gone crazy from Bolshevist rabies. The restaurants 1 
are merely banditti strongholds. The busmen are 
frenzied corsairs in charge of juggernauts. The shop 
girls are replicas of the women of the French Revo- 
lution. Even the dustmen are terrorists. Ah! I 
often sigh for Victorian days. After King Edward's 
death I feared we would all become too good to live. 
We were threatened by a most painful wave of puri- 
tanism, but all sorts of thrilling novelties cropped up 
and saved us." 

"The women, for instance," suggested Mrs. Dave- 
nant. "You find now that you can't generalize about 
our sex. That's their charm, Lord Lester. Each is a 
law to herself, and they have such wonderful recupera- 
tive powers. In their youth they pass through the 
most appalling tragedies, which by middle age have 
become mere mirages draped in heliotrope memories." 

Lester watched her sharply, then laughed. "Yes, 
yes I We owe the suffragettes a debt for presenting 
us with new sensations. I was never in favor of 
suppressing them. Certainly woman's day has dawned. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



130 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

and now the House of Commons has decided to be 
funny, and has dropped its absurd pose of pompous 
superiority we are getting along much better. I al- 
ways say we're all right as long as we have a govern- 
ment that makes no attempt to govern." 

"You'll stop to tea?" asked Mrs. Davenant, seeing 
that Carlton had risen, and was trying to arrest his 
uncle's verbosity by laying a heavy hand on his 
shoulder. 

*1 fear we can't to-day, thanks! I must be get- 
ting home to my guests," he answered, his thoughts 
busy with her beauty and charm of manner. He held 
the hand she gave him lingeringly. "I was very dis- 
appointed about yesterday," he found himself saying, 
with a sort of unconscious shyness. Then, hearing 
Lester talking volubly to Miss Howard, he added in 
a low voice, **it made all the difference to my day.'* 

She seemed not to hear his last words. Her tones 
were merely kind and friendly. 

"Ah! but even if we had come we shouldn't have 
had many words with you. I know what real business 
those shoots are — ^no lingering behind after limch on 
those short afternoons. The host is always more or 
less pre-occupied." 

He shook his head dissentingly. "I may come to 
say good-by? I'm off at the end of next week." 

* Why, of course ! Come when you like. We shall 
miss you when you go," she said. 

During the walk home Lester monopolized the 
whole of the conversation. Carlton listened, and 
smoked one cigarette after another in moody = silence. 
His uncle was sentimental and cynical by turns, as 
was his wont, 

"Perfectly charming and undoubtedly lovely. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 131 

Makes one realize how many pretty women there are, 
and how very few lovely ones. Mysterious! Yes, 
my boy, that's undoubtedly where the real charm lies, 
in the mystery of her. I can remember, in the good 
old days, one winter at Nice, a lot of us were held 
there for months by one veiled woman— she was 
American, and went everywhere, but no one ever saw 
her face unveiled. We sat in her opera box, we played 
bridge and trente et qtiarante alongside her, we danced 
with her — she had a divine figure, but not one of us 
ever saw her face. One chap bet a thousand guineas 
to one he'd unveil her in a week — ^he lost his money. 
Probably she was hideous, but she was the rage, be- 
cause it got rumored about she was so lovely no man 
could look upon her and live. She had a husband, 
by the way, and he managed to survive. Who is 
Mrs. Davenant? What is she? What's her game? 
Has she had a sickener of conquests, and come here 
to find something easy to practice upon, just to keep 
her hand in ? One doesn't meet with such beauty every 
day, certainly not hidden away in the country. That 
adds to the mystery. Now, if she's really a widow, 
why hasn't she made a brilliant second marriage?" 

Lester paused for the first time to get his second 
wind. He seemed to expect an answer to his numer- 
ous questions. 

"How the devil should I know?" was Claude's 
rather sulky retort. 

Lester noted the hardly suppressed irritation, and 
proceeded to rub it in relentlessly. 

"One can see at once that she's had any amount 
of experience, and the terms of experience are invari- 
ably very high. Damned old usurer, experience isf 
She's kept young, so clearly her life's been a success. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



132 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

She seems to have settled down, which, as a rule, re- 
quires the deuce of a settling up, and she's the type of 
woman who could make any man under and over forty 
a doddering imbecile. I don't mean that every man 
would lose his heart to her. I mean that most men 
would lose their heads over her, a very different 
matter." 

Carlton thought of the smile he had caught Lester 
bestowing upon the lady in question. It was the smile 
with which certain men will alwa3rs smile at something 
lovely, whether their wives approve or not. 

"I was always a free lance," went on Uncle Lester 
in lingering and sentimental tones, "simply because 
I was clever enough to recognize my own limitations. 
I have always considered marriage as a most difficult 
profession, for which one ought to have a stiff appren- 
ticeship. The great thing is not to expect more of 
marriage than there is in it. Some one must get the 
worst of every bargain. It is absurd to rush into so 
very complicated an adventure without any prelimi- 
nary training. That is why women on marrying must 
always submit to guidance. They haven't had our 
advantages." 

"Looks as if a widow might not be such a bad in- 
vestment," struck in Carlton with dry humor. 

For just a second Lester was nonplussed. "Widows 
are charming," he conceded readily, "but widowhood 
has become such a vocation. It's quite overdone. And 
they all begin by refusing in the same words the man 
who proposes to them — 'No, thanks I I know when I'm* 
well off, a most painful beginning. I believe I did hear 
of one variation. 'Once bit, twice shy,' equally offen- 
sive, I consider. Widows as wives have two serious 
drawbacks. You've always to keep in active competi- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 133 

tion with defunct number one, and widows are so 
devilish independent. Directly a woman knows the 
ropes she's off down the course with the bit between 
her teeth. Widows are never domesticated. My 
contention is that no women, not even charwomen, are 
domesticated. We liked, in Victorian days, to pre- 
tend they were, but the death struggle going on, 
drawing-room versus servants' hall, has exposed the 
fallacy. If I were a woman — ^I put it to you, dear 
boy — should we enjoy having babies, and depend- 
ing for our orgies on the linen cupboards and store- 
room?" 

"No, you bet we wouldn't," laughed Carlton. "I 
do sometimes remember that it must be rather a bore 
for women always to be thinking of how they can best 
feed us. Women themselves don't care a damn what 
they eat." 

"They seem to share with the Zoo bears a passion 
for bims, so I've been told," agreed Lester, then con- 
scious that he had not quite accomplished his original 
intentions, he dashed off again on to the subject of 
matrimony. 

"No man, if he wishes to keep young, should dream 
of marriage before he's forty. He should be content- 
ed till then with other men's wives. They'll teach him 
what marriage means, and always remember that a 
reputation for success in love is a tremendous asset 
with women. They tumble to it like nothing else. 
Of course- to be a lover and husband combined is a 
fine art, which few acquire, but there you are! Lov- 
ers are bom, not made. A bom lover has his own 
methods of making love. He treats the art with the 
respect it deserves. He studies his part, taking into 
consideration his personal appearance, his sta3ring 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



134 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

powers, etc. For instance, a man of my build, and 
the short, stubby, thick-set man should make love in 
totally different ways. I could always rush an affair, 
with a fair chance of success. The short, stubby diap 
has to plod. His hope of success would lie in dogged 
perseverance, and a stubborn wearing down of op- 
position, but he gets there, if only he can stay the 
course." 

Carlton laughed rather grimly. He was getting 
rather bored by the veiled lecture. 

*'I'll remember all your tips, if ever the day does 
come when I contemplate matrimony," he said drily. 

''Oh ! you !" Lester waved an airy hand. "Of course 
I spotted at once that you weren't running in any mat- 
rimonial stakes when you left the Dower House." 

Carlton turned sharply round and stared at the 
speaker. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "how extraordi- 
nary. I simply never thought of that before." 

Lester's eyes followed a covey of partridges ; he said 
nothing. 

Later on that evening Lester seated himsdf beside 
Mrs. Carlton and Mrs. Hall at the far*end of the long 
drawing-room. The rest of the party were out of ear- 
shot, chattering in groups together around the bright 
wood fire. No card games were ever played on Sun- 
day at Great Glentworth, but often a neighbor or 
two drove over to dine in a friendly, unceremonious 
fashion. 

Captain Hall was really too vigorous a sportsman 
to dine out on any other day but Sunday. He was 
inclined to be sleepy and tired after many hours passed 
in the open air in hard exercise. Saidie enjoyed those 
informal evenings. She enjoyed showing off her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 135 

latest Parisian novelties to the house party, and Mrs. 
Carlton was always such a splendid foil in her eve- 
ning uniform of black velvet, high to the* throat and 
cut on the severest lines. Even the magnificent dia- 
mond cross upon her breast failed to detract from the 
strictly masculine appearance she affected, and which 
somehow suited her as no other style of dress could or 
would. 

"Did Claudie tell you where we went this after- 
noon?" asked Lester, drawing up a low chair close to 
the two women. 

Mrs. Carlton put her glass in one eye and answered, 
"No. Where did you go?" 

"To call on Mrs. Davenant." 

For a moment she answered nothing, and Mrs. Hall 
struck in. "I like Mrs, Davenant, but Fve told Jim 
pretty plainly that I won't have any fooling around 
in that quarter. There's no real harm in Jim, but folks 
might think there was, if he got into the habit of al- 
ways dropping in at Little Glentworth, just as some 
men drop into every inn they pass. Though I like her, 
I think she's dangerous." 

Mrs. Carlton seemed to have been thinking hard, 
and Lester guessed her thoughts. She sat with her 
close-cropped head slightly bent, and her thin brown 
fingers mechanically smoothing her black velvet lap. 

"I've an impression, though I've really nothing to 
go on, that it would be useless for any man to fall in 
love with Mrs. Davenant, because she isn't free." 

Lester grinned. "Oh! my dear Sibyl, what an ar- 
gument," he expostulated. "As a matter of fact, to 
love some one you've no right to love is by far the 
most enthralling love of all. It adds more gilt to the 
gingerbread thaa anything else I know. As a bachelor 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



136 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

I can speak from experience. Certainly, if you are 
right in your supposition, we may safely place the lady 
outside the danger zone, but I shouldn't say it would 
be useless for any man to fall in love with her owing 
to* the reason you suggest. Women who are unat- 
tainable have an enormous attraction." 

"But if one were only certain that no man could 
marry her " suggested Mrs. Carlton with uncon- 
cealed anxiety. 

"Ah! If! Of course there are lots of men who 
will simply do anything for a woman, except marry 
her. Conceivably that may be why the lady in ques- 
tion remains a widow." 

Mrs. Carlton smiled incredulously, and silently 
shook her head. 

"She prefers men to women. She's practically said 
so!" resumed Saidie with a certain warmth. "Oht 
I know men are under the ridiculous delusion that 
women can't admire one another. That's pure non- 
sense. The truth is we don't always believe that a 
beautiful face implies a beautiful nature. Mrs. Dave- 
nant's got one of those intensely feminine faces that 
add so much to beauty of feature. They cause a man 
to realize the strong contrast between the sexes." 

"God be praised/* ejaculated Lester piously. "Helps 
one to bear with this new gender that the war has • 
produced. Mrs. Davenant's all right for women, but 
I maintain she's dangerous for men." 

"I think, Saidie, Mrs. Davenant's openly expressed 
devotion to men was intended as a warning," said Mrs. 
Carlton, speaking very deliberately. "It was meant 
as a warning to women to keep away. She doesn't 
want any of us about her. We might find out some- 
thing." 



Digitized by 



Google 



LORD LESTER'S ADVICE 137 

"She may only have divcM-ced her husband," sug- 
gested Mrs. Hall, but Lester shook his head. 

"Only ugly women are so recklessly improvident,'* 
he declared seriously. "Foolish creatures, they never 
think of how their men are to be replaced. Where 
does Mrs. Davenant get her money from?" 

"Ask me anothier," laughed Saidie. 

"Why does no one ever discuss Miss Howard? 
She's quite as mysterious as the other, and a very 
handsome woman," mused Mrs. Carlton aloud. 

"I hear the Vicar's enormously attracted in that 
quarter," struck in Mrs. Hall, maliciously. "He ad- 
mires them both because they don't jazz." 

Lester looked serious. "I approve of the clergy 
marrying. Though rather out of date as husbands 
they make most useful relations. I remember they 
used to be fashionable as husbands in the old Queen's 
reign, at least the muscular Christian type were, but 
I've never heard that they'd come in again. Shouldn't 
wonder if there was an after-the-war boom in them 
now." 

"What are you three discussing so mysteriously?" 
demanded Claude, who had strolled up to them unper- 
ceived. 

"Family affairs, dear boy, and the decay of reli- 
gious observance in the stately homes of England," 
rapped out Lester flippantly. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XI 

CLAUDE CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 

"TiJ-AJOR CARLTON/* announced the butler. 
IVl Qaude, as he passed through the doorway, 
caught a general impression of a very exhausted lady 
lying back with closed eyes before a tea table. 

"May I come in?" he asked pausing involun- 
^tarily. 

He saw her open her eyes, and raise her head with 
^a little start. 

"Yes, please do." 

The expression of weariness and intmse sadness 
^vanished. Even as their eyes met that expression had 
passed into a flashing smile of welcome. 
I "I do hope I'm not disturbing you, that you're not 
very tired. Fve brought you some pheasants," he 
apologized. 

I "How very kind of you. Do come and sit down 
and have some tea. I've not begun yet, in fact I've 
just come in." 

She slipped off her loose glove, and held out her bare 
hand. 

"Don't dwell upon my personal appearance too criti- 
cally. I've been for a long walk and regular scram- 
ble." 

"So I perceive," he rejoined in his quiet voice. 
"How have you scratched your wrist so badly?" He 

138 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 139 

did not release her hand bat turned it round, pahn 
upwards. 

She looked down on it and laughed. '^Entirely self- 
inflicted. I can't own up to any desperate encounter, 
Major Carlton. You may tie that handkerchief round 
it if you like.'* 

In his unembarrassed way he knotted the wisp of 
cambric she gave him. "Thanks! that looks much 
more respectable.'* She sat down again and began to 
pour out the tea, and in the half light of the dying 
day he looked at her more closely. Her face, so tired 
and pale, was at variance with her gay air. 

"I'm sure you ought to go and rest. Where have 
you been?" he asked, tactfully taking no outward note 
of the fact that her skirt was liberally sprinkled with 
burrs and thorns. 

"Over the fields and stiles, and ditches and through 
innumerable hedges. As a matter of fact, I'm not in 
the least tired. I'm a splendid walker, and as to 
sleep!" 

She raised her beautiful eyes dramatically to the 
ceiling. 

"I sleep here like the dead, until the last trump, 
in the form of my maid with early tea, recalls me to 
this mundane sphere once more. I hadn't slept prop- 
erly for years until I came here. I used to keep awake 
on what I'd done, now I sleep on what I'm going to 
do." 

She heaved a contented little sigh, and began to nib- 
ble a piece of cake. 

"That's the best news I've heard for a long time. 
It means you'll stay on here," he exclaimed with a 
touch of eagerness. 

"Probably, till I'm turned out," she answered. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



I40 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

For a second he did not gather her meaning, then 
he remembered she had taken the Dower House. 

"That's a contingency we needn't trouble to con- 
sider." As their eyes met he caught once more a re- 
flection of that mental pain and weariness he had seen 
when entering a few minutes before. 

He told himself, in the brief silence that fell between 
them, that there was something curiously incongruous 
in this woman. At moments, she gave tfie impression 
of a light-hearted mondaine who had no thoughts be- 
yond her own beauty and the comfort of her surround- 
ings. Yet he could not help feeling the certainty that 
she had been through the mill, as he expressed it. She 
had done some rough traveling in her day, and her 
cheery light-heartedness suggested to him a great re- 
serve of courage. 

"I'm sorry I've got to return so soon to town." 

"So am I," she agreed promptly, smiling back at 
him. "We shall have to depend for our male society 
upon Mr. Warburton, Colonel Webb, and Captain Hall. 
Probably I'll run up for a week's shopping before 
Christmas. Perhaps London won't be so horrid by 
then, but I hear people have begun economizing again 
in everything but lovers." 

She gave him a very frank opinion of London. She 
had sold her town house and hated hotels, and in such 
times, however kind people were, it was not really kind 
to pay visits. Then there was always a coal crisis 
or a butter famine. Taxis would only come out at 
night to take jazzing ladies to balls at five pounds a 
head. Dressmakers were now blatant thieves of the 
first water, and in town no kind Samaritan called with 
home grown pheasants, to ease the monotony of Chi- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY J41 

nese fowls and three-years-dead Australian mut- 
ton. 

She smiled her thanks again at him, her blue eyes 
full of sparkling gratitude. 

"I'm most awfully pleased that some one appreci- 
ates the old rocketers. TU see you're kept supplied 
whilst I'm away. We get a few woodcock, too, and 
an occasional bunny might come in handy in these 
times of stress," he promised her. "The kitchen gar- 
den here was always a good one, and we've always 
managed to keep a few of the houses going. My ten- 
ants must not want for anything in this land of plenty. 
Country folks have had a big pull over town folk dur- 
ing the last five years. You were wise to chuck the 
town, Mrs. Davenant." 

"I've proved that already up to the hilt," she agreed, 
"though your reasons for saying so sound rather 
greedy. Agnes says that when rationing came in, 
little Mary became the most important personage in the 
kingdom." 

Her gayety was infectious, it made him smile. What 
spirits she had! Here was the cheery chatter of a 
woman who hadn't a care in the world. There was no 
trace left of the pale, weary woman whom he had sur- 
prised on his arrival. He dwelt mentally upon that 
fleeting impression. He would not so greatly admire 
her pluck had he not also seen that momentary deso- 
lation of sadness. 

"Do tell me the latest county scandal!" she de- 
manded. 

He shook his head. "For the time being there is 
actually none that I've heard. We all seem to be 
behaving pretty well. I've been too overcome by Les- 
ter's town yams to pay much attention to the neigh- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



142 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

borhood. By the way ! What about the Lake House? 
Have you begun to unravel that mystery? I hear 
young Thorpe's been staying at the White Hart. Is 
old Thorpe's niece still with him?" 

She glanced up quickly. "She is. I saw her only 
yesterday. Don't you know Harry Thorpe?" 

He felt the sensation of being challenged. "No, 
we've never happened to come across one anodier," 
he replied indifferently. "We dropped the Lake House 
as a going concern years ago. You know him?" 

She nodded. "Yes! We've met, and I Uke him 
enormously. He will be a great acquisition when he 
steps into his kinsman's shoes. It's rather hard ofl 
him to be dropped because of his relative's peculiari- 
ties." 

He was puzzled by her championship. "If I chance 
to be on leave I'll look him up when he comes down 
here again. I said a moment ago that I'd heard no 
scandal. I forgot about young Thorpe. He and Miss 
Thome are said to be deeply interested in one another, 
if not absolutely engaged. As you seem so interested 
in them, perhaps you've already heard this tit-bit?'* 

She Ignored his query, "That's a delightful tit-bit," 
she exclaimed. "Oh! I do hope it's true." 

"But why on earth should you be so keen?" he 
persisted; struck by the ring of actual enthusiasm in 
her voice. 

"Firstly, because it's romance, and I adore romance. 
Secondly, they're young and I'm so horribly tired of 
old age. For five long years the old have had the time 
of their lives. Now, I'd like to see them all buried, 
and youth come into its own and rule the world, as it 
should." 

He laughed with quiet enjoyment "I'm absolutely 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 143 

with you. I'd bury the House of Commons first. 
Worse luck we've got a Govenunent that defies every- 
thing, even the tooth of time. So you're keen on ro- 
mance !" 

"Rather! I'm keener on romance than on an)rthing 
else. Why! it's the only thing worth living 
for." 

"How would you define it?' 

"Something one hasn't the slightest right to. Thaf s 
what makes it so heavenly. Real romance must never 
be obvious. It must always be ^^6 rosa!^ 

"Not so fast, please," he raised a protesting hand. 
"I've got to assimilate that. Sub rosa sounds, well — 
dangerous. Would you call marriage rcwnance?" 

She looked reflectively out of the window on the 
autumn glory of a herbaceous border. 

"Some one has to get the worst of every bargain, 
and isn't that all marriage is?" She spoke as if to 
herself, then she turned and looked at him. "Of 
course it so much depends. I've always believed that 
the ideal husband dwells only in the imagination of the 
woman who never had one. A first marriage is hardly 
ever a romance, a second marriage conceivably 
might be." 

He laughed ironically. "On the whole you evi- 
dently don't think much of matrimony, Mrs. Dave- 
nant." 

She shrugged her shoulders smilingly. Her voice 
was dry. 

"I'm rather inclined to take heaven's view. It 
isn't thought much of in the other world. It's a thing 
that's not done there. It was the only thing the Gov- 
ernment forgot to make compulsory, a deprivation they 
forgot to popularize." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



144 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

He wondered many things as he smiled* at her C3m- 
ical little quips. What could her history be? he asked 
himself for the hundredth time, for though he would 
deny it strenuously to others he was convinced in his 
mind that she had left a stormy past behind her. Sud- 
denly he thought of something. 

"Won't you and Miss Howard dine with us on Fri- 
day night, the night before I go?" he asked. "Only a 
small party, Lester goes to town with me, and the 
Halls and Warburtons will dine with us. My mother 
will, of course, send you the conventional note, but do 
promise me now that you'll come." 

She flashed her charming smile upon him. "Thanks 
ever so much. We will be delighted, and pray tell Mrs. 
Carlton not to bother about writing. Conventionali- 
ties bore me, as you may already have discovered. 
We'll be with you on Friday at eight o'clock." 

"That's ripping. Thanks awfully," he answered, 
meaning every word he said. "Now I'll take myself 
off, and leave you to have a rest." 

When Hilda Davenant heard his retreating steps 
on the gravel she lay back in her chair and closed her 
eyes. 

"I think he's warned oflf, but one never can tell," 
she murmured below her breath. A clock struck six, 
the room was full of shadow, the silence of the house 
was profound. Memories had rushed upon her ruth- 
lessly that afternoon. They flooded in on her now. 
Her vision of the old black and white Lake House had 
roused in her unbidden recollections, which tested her 
courage to the utmost. There were connected with it 
certain facts in her life which held a sudden terror for 
her. Then that hard-won fight of hers through long 
years came back to her. Up to now she had won out. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 145 

Why should the future hold more fears than the past 
had done, and there was always Agnes — ^the steadfast 
friendship of Agnes Howard. The thought brought 
a glow of comfort to her, and she rose and gathered 
up her gloves. 

She smiled suddenly. "I'll go and have a bath. I 
believe all the greatest thoughts in this world are first 
conceived in a hot tub." 

Carlton mounted his horse in the stable-yard and 
rode slowly away through the twilight towards home. 
His thoughts were full of the woman he had just left, 
and he now frankly acknowledged to himself that she 
meant more to him than any other woman he'd ever 
met. 

Yet the shadow of non-possum was over him and 
sobered his ardor. Before he had even seen her mys- 
tery had enveloped her, and the constant hints of some 
hidden secret in her life had colored his thoughts, 
damped his spirit and restrained his impulses. Was 
she, or was she not, free to re-marry? The latter 
somehow seemed the likelier possibility. Why, he 
could hardly have told. It might be that he was sat- 
urated with the hinted and half-expressed beliefs of 
others. A husband in the background was the most 
generally accepted and propounded theory. Tragedy 
seemed to dog the steps of great beauties in history, 
and all the world over, and always their beauty seemed 
to stop short of giving them their hearts' desire. Sad- 
ness, solitude, poverty was so often their bitter portion 
at last. His friendship with Mrs. Davenant seemed 
to bring home to Claude Carlton the tragedy of the 
professional beauty's life. The standard of living was 
not for her as for her less lovely sister. Her actions 
were always in the limelight, and invested with strong 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



146 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

significance. Her slanderers multiplied in ratio with 
her lovers, and no one ever remembered that no great 
beauty was ever half so good, or half so bad as she was 
painted by hand or by God. It came to Carlton that 
where such women failed was in their mental power to 
store in waiting a substitute for the beauty filched by 
time. Their unwillingness to ring down the curtain 
on physical fascinations, and ring up a curtain on men- 
tal attractions brought infinite tragedy to those whose 
day was done. They clung to life's morning glory, 
and turned shudderingly aside from the mellow love- 
liness of eventide. 

What Mrs. Davenport had chaffingly remarked 
about marriage might have been said as a warning to 
him. He had been vaguely conscious all the time that 
veiled beneath her light banter she had some definite 
purpose. How well versed she must be in warding 
off lovers! The beautiful Mrs. Davenant must have 
had them by the score. 

Carlton told himself he cared nothing for her past. 
He would please himself in choosing a wife, and if 
Hilda Davenant was free he would let himself go for 
all he was worth, and win her if it was humanly pos- 
sible. How was he to find out the truth ? Only by 
asking her the question. At present that seemed the 
only way. 

As he left his horse in the hands of his groom and 
struck off towards the house, he caught sight of his 
mother and Lester walking on ahead of him, and a 
smile broke over his grave face. 

Accustomed as he was to the male attire Mrs. Carl- 
ton affected, her neat manliness caused him constant 
amusement. 

This evening she was markedly more immaculate 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 147 

than her companion. Her riding breeches were cut by 
a master hand. Her "tops" fitted to perfection, and 
the long coat she wore became her boyish slender lines. , 
Her bowler hat had a single eyeglass screwed into its 
brim. Mrs. Carlton's white doeskins were unbuttoned 
To-day no smart man buttons his gloves — such is the 
whim of the moment. 

"Hullo!" shouted Qaude lustily. 

The pair stopped and waited. "Hullo! where have 
you been since tea-time? I saw 'the Gujr* was out 
when we left our gees in the stable," inquired his 
mother. 

"I took Mrs. Davenant some game and found her 
at home. She'd just returned from a long tramp. 
Seems she's a first-rate walker. By the way, whilst I 
remember, I've asked both ladies to dinner on Friday, 
and you might invite the Halls and the Warburtons, 
mother. Let's have a final burst before I go." 

Mrs. Carlton smiled upon him. "Right you are, 
dear boy, and I'll also send a line to Mrs. Davenant." 

"Thanks! but you needn't bother. She told me to 
tell you so," returned Claude, carelessly. 

His mother made no remark. She accepted the fact 
that Qaude was the autocrat of his own house, and 
his invitations sufficed in themselves. 

"And how did you find your attractive neighbors?" 
inquired Lester, genially. 

"Miss Howard wasn't there. Only Mrs. Davenant, 
and she looked rather tired I thought." 

"But as beautiful as ever, I presume?" 

Qaude smiled. "Yes, that goes without sa3ang. 
She is a beautiful woman." 

Lester did not like the expression. He would rather 
Claude had called her "a toH)er" or something else 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



148 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

equally inelegant and indifferent. He'd even have 
borne without reproof the iniquitous "Top hole." 

"By the way/' he went on casually, and beginning 
to search in his pockets for something, "I got a letter 
yesterday. Was it yesterday? Yes! I think it was, 
from a Yankee chap whom I saw a lot of in Washing- 
ton at one time. I wrote him a p.c. the other day, and 
asked him if lie'd ever come across any one of the 
names of Mrs. Davenant and Miss Howard. I en- 
deavored briefly to sketch with my feeble pen the per- 
sonal charms of both ladies. I placed a hypothetical 
date at about twelve years ago." 

"What on earth makes you think they lived in 
Washington?" exclaimed Carlton, frowning and tap- 
ping his leg impatiently with his crop. "They aren't 
Americans." 

"Perhaps they aren't, but they ought to be," re- 
torted Lester, inconsequentially. "Here is what my 
friend, Colonel Bellows, says in answer. I thiidc 
there's just light enough to see. You understand this 
letter is written in American, not English, but doubt- 
less you'll be able to translate enough of its meaning. 
Yes! here's the place — 

" 'I guess this is ^ome proposition, but I remember 
in the days when I was at a loose end, a pair of lady- 
birds in Washington. One was called Agnes Howard, 
but the other wasn't called Davenant, she was Hilda 
Lambert. No relation to each other. Agnes Howard 
was the very topmost straw on the swim in Washing- 
ton, but the knowing ones were on to her because they 
said Brother Howard kept Mrs. Lambert, or what- 
ever her name was, and she got away with most of 
his money when he died. Seems to me Hilda Lambert 
was a widow, but since this little old war my brain's 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 149 

gone blank — ^absolutely, and maybe I've sent you a 
dud and been barking up the wrong tree. Henderson 
has just blown in, and we're off to have a bit of lunch 
at the Cri/ 

^ "That's all, I think, upon that subject," remarked 
Lester, tranquilly, as he neatly folded up the letter and 
replaced it in his pocket. "Good chap, Bellows. They 
say he really was Wilson's right hand man in Paris, 
and according to the vernacular of the day he's a 
multi." 

"What extraordinary language," exclaimed Mrs. 
Carlton, uneasily, as she began to walk on again. 
I Lester shrugged. "Not really more extraordinary 
than the English language has become. Bellows has a 
suite of rooms at the Ritz, but I gave up going there 
after being accosted three times in half an hour, with 
*Glad to see you in the pink, old son !' It's quite possi- 
ble Bellows is blowing, or is it barking up the wrong 
tree, as he euphemistically expresses it." 

"Sounds a most tmlikely connection with the ladies^ 
at Little Glentworth," exclaimed Claude, contemptu- 
ously. "Agnes Howard is quite a common name, so 
is Hilda Davenant or Lambert. Davenant's Irish, I 
fancy. However, their names are no concern of ours, 
and in themselves both ladies are charming." 

"Quite charming," hastily and warmly agreed Les- 
ter. "What's in a name? No one ought to be chris- 
tened till they're twenty-one. Names rarely fit their 
owners. Women called Fay and Daphne have faces 
like the Marble Arch, and always address you as if 
you were a public meeting. I've known of Marma- 
dukes and Jaspars who have faces like gargoyles, who 
roar like bulls of Bashan under Reformer's Tree, and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



ISO THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

dwell in suburban nests called Zepp Villa and Gotha 
Cottage. After all, my dear boy, we do make more 
allowances for human nature than we did twenty years 
ago. The exact difference between the saint and the 
sinner is one of temperamental degree. Temperament 
used to be the strict preserve of genius, now any one 
may have it and belong to quite a decent club." 

Lord Lester became aware that his companions were 
not listening to a word he said. Mother and son were 
striding along on either side of him with lowered 
heads, apparently wrapped in their own thoughts. Les- 
ter never suffered inattention for long. 

"YouVe right, Claude. You feel just as I do," he 
prattled on. "I like to know things instinctively. I 
dislike things explained. The big three. Press, Pulpit 
and Petticoat, never explain anything. The Press never 
explains who invents the pap it feeds us on. The Pul- 
pit never explains how it knows all the«things it says 
it knows. The Petticoat never explains what it is 
made to conceal. By the way, at the last Palace gar- 
den party the petticoats had come down an inch or 
two. In the good old rollicking days of the militant 
suffragettes it was all very well to shriek for woman's 
rights, but women are top dog now, and the women 
who really wear well are those who keep something to 
themselves, like the dear things at the Dower House." 

"Lester! what are you talking about?" questioned 
Mrs. Carlton abruptly and very sharply. 

*T wasn't talking. I was only rambling on to my- 
self," he replied gently. 

On reaching the house Claude strode away to his 
own quarters, and Lester, finding himself alone with 
Mrs. Carlton by the whip rack in the hall, whispered 
to her softly — 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CARLTON MAKES A DISCOVERY 151 

"I think we'll find that friend Bellows has hit both 
nails evenly on the head." 

She made no answer, beyond a slight shrug of her 
shoulders, and went to her room. If "friend Bellows" 
was right — ^then Hilda Davenant was free to marry 
again. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XII 

MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 

WHEN the ladies from Little Glentworth walked 
into the Carltons' library they found the rest of 
the party assembled, and a subdued hum of conversa- 
tion was going on. 

The family party had been augmented by the arrival 
of Lady Tadcaster, Mrs. Carlton's sister, and the Halls 
had brought two American guests, Major Griffith and 
Colonel Lycett. The little party had expanded into 
twelve persons, and as was her invariable habit Mrs. 
Carlton introduced the last comers to those unknown 
to them. 

Claude Carlton had been standing up before the fire 
feeling curiously restless, until the door opened to ad- 
mit the last of his guests. It was a fine moonlight 
night, and he had congratulated himself on the fact,- 
as he looked out a few minutes previously from the 
windows upon the wide expanse of wooded park lands 
stretching down to the river. The roads would be 
good going for Mrs. Davenant's Rolls-Royce. Neither 
he nor his mother attempted to use the large drawing- 
room, even when receiving a number of guests. 
Claude said it looked chilly and unlived in, which in 
truth it was, and he preferred the spacious, stately pro- 
portions and comfortable aspect of the library, with its 
yawning fireplace, the rich clothing of beautiful bind- 

152 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 153 

ings lining its walls, giving it that air of completeness 
nothing can supply so satisfactorily as books. Palms, 
ferns, azaleas and camelias in full blow were grouped 
in dark corners. The room looked beautiful, as even 
Carlton himself had acknowledged when glancing 
around him. 

As he stood up before the Mazing logs waiting for 
the woman he was impatient to see, the butler an- 
nounced, "Mrs. Davenant, Miss Howard," and he fol- 
lowed his mother down the room to welcome them. 

He held Mrs. Davenant's hand, perhaps for a mo- 
ment longer than was necessary, looking down on her 
with eyes eloquent in admiration, and she certainly was 
very good to look upon, with her starry eyes raised to 
his, her white skin shining like satin against the folds 
of her dark gown. Then he turned to greet Agnes 
Howard, brilliantly handsome in dark red velvet. 

Mrs. Davenant passed down the long room by Mrs. 
Carlton's side, with that perfect grace and composure 
which characterized all her movements ; shaking hands 
first with one then another of her acquaintances. 

"I want to introduce to you Colonel Lycett and Ma- 
jor Griffith," said Mrs. Carlton. 

Both men bowed low, and as they held out their 
hands they said — 

"Very pleased to meet you." 

"Very pleased to meet you." 

A close observer might have noticed that on hearing 
this mode of address Mrs. Davenant paused involun- 
tarily, and looked more attentively at both men, but 
Mrs. Carlton was saying — 

"Now I want you to know my sister," and the two 
ladies passed on together. 

Lady Tadcaster greeted Mrs. Davenant with great 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



154 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

cordiality. She was a widow of importance in her 
world, owning the unique reputation for never having 
compromised herself. The truth was, that being very 
plain no one would believe anything against her. Her 
female relations were always extremely affectionate to 
her, as her lord had left her the family pearls, and the 
power to will them to whom she pleased. It was ma- 
liciously said that she devoted herself to French novels 
and being rude to her relatives, but to the Carltons, 
mother and son, she was devoted, and she had con- 
trived to reach Great Glentworth the night before, at 
her sister's earnest request. 

*' Well ! how do you like settling down in the coun- 
try?" she asked pleasantly, as she and Mrs. Davenant 
seated themselves side by side. 

"Immensely ! so far it's been a great rest cure." 

Lady Tadcaster smiled wryly. "I can't say I've ever 
found that, because people insist on going to town to 
be amused, and going down to the country to be amus- 
mg. 

"Town birds feel it incumbent upon theni to dis- 
perse agricultural depression," supplemented Captain 
Hall, who had drawn a chair to their side, looking very 
much at home in his well-worn "pink." 

"Personally I find rest and oblivion in a crowd," de- 
clared Tadcaster, "more especially if it is a musical 
crowd, when every one talks at once and no one ever 
says anything. I found the 'Peace' season the hard- 
est I ever went through. We were always told that 
after the war ever3rthing would be different. Natural- 
ly we thought that meant things would be quieter and 
more subdued. The difference I found was in the 
wildly reckless expenditure, the wild desire for amuse- 
ment of all sorts, and the prices willingly paid for all 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 155 

luxuries. The gulf between Society and Labor was 
never more pronounced. The harder Labor struck, the 
harder Society jazzed and raced." 

"Saidie says it reminds her of the insane spending 
of the San Franciscans when their insurance money 
was paid after the earthquake," remarked the Master. 

"Come and have some dinner, Aunt Clara," said 
Carlton, offering his arm. 

Captain Hall led in Mrs. Davenant, who found her- 
self next one of the Americans at the round table. 
[Mrs. Carlton faced her with Lester and Warburton 
on her right and left. The Master was in first-rate 
form. 

"I'm in luck to-night," he told himself with a quiet 
chuckle, as he turned a beaming face 'on his com- 
panion. 

"I say, what an awfully pretty frock you've got on. 
You don't mind my saying so, do you? What's it 
made of?" 

"Satin brocade," answered Hilda. "I'm glad it 
meets with your approval." 

"Suits you down to the ground," he declared, sur- 
veying the dark blue and gold triumph of a French 
artiste. 

She colored slightly under his too obvious apprecia- 
tion of her beauty, and indeed he thought her wonder- 
fully attractive and lovely. 

"I didn't dare hope I'd find myself seated next you," 
he half whispered. "What a thing it is in life, to be 
sure to find some one who never palls." 

Mrs. Davenant laughed outright. "We hardly see 
enough of each other to tire, if such a thing were pos- 
sible. How well your wife looks to-night." 

The Master pulled himself up, and took the hint. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



IS6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

glancing round at Saidie who sat on one side of her 
host. She wore a white satin sheath that showed off 
her smart little figure. Diamonds sparkled in her hair 
and on her breast, where a knot of weird-looking 
orchids clustered. 

'^Yes! I suppose she is what one would call a 
smart-looking little lady/' he conceded, "she's a rat- 
tling good sort too. I couldn't bear to be henpecked." 

"Don't you think it entirely depends upon the hen?" 
suggested Hilda, with a gleam of mischief. 

Hall grinned. "Perhaps it does," he conceded. 
^'What's so clever about Saidie is she quite understands 
that to look pretty very nearly means I am pretty. I 
never cared much for big women, they look too much 
as if they could take care of themselves. That chap 
who took her in is a first-rate rider. He's got no end 
of trotters and chasers on his place in Virginia." 

"An American?" inquired Mrs. Davenant casually. 
^'I didn't catch his name when he was introduced." 

"Lycett, Colonel Lycett His town house is in 
Washington. He and Major Griffith only arrived this 
afternoon, so we brought them along. Good chaps, 
both of them. Don't tell you they won the war, and 
can cut off our bacon with a strcAie of the pen." 

"Old friends of Mrs. Hall's?" suggested Hilda. 

The Master shook his head. "No, they brought 
letters from friends of hers, so we asked them down 
here for a few days." 

Colonel Lycett was a tall, wiry, gray-haired man 
of about fifty, clean shaven and admirably groomed. 
Griffith was also clean shaven. He was the clear cut, 
fine featured type which is now so essentially Ameri- 
can. He was seated on Mrs. Davenant's left, but so 
far he was immersed in conversation with Emily War- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 157 

burton, and she could not see him distinctly. Lady 
Tadcaster was chattering with Carlton. 

"Griffith's got all sorts of rum opinions," whispered 
Hall, under cover of the buzz of conversation. 

''What sort of rum opinions?" whispered back 
Hilda, suddenly interested. 

"Oh! extraordinary opinions as to our having lived 
in a previous existence and astral bodies. I don't sup- 
pose you know what they mean any more than I do?" 

He glanced across the table with a little laugh. "Did 
you ever sit at a dinner-table where they managed to 
keep off it?" he asked. 

Mrs. Carlton was talking volubly, and leaning for- 
ward as she addressed Major Griffith. 

"No, we haven't a ghost here, but there's said to 
be a good one in the neighborhood." 

The whole table suddenly paused to listen. 
'Where's that, Sibyl?" asked Lady Tadcaster. 
The Lake House. Old Mr. Thorpe's place." 

"Thorpe ! Thorpe ! I once knew a Thorpe in Wash- 
ington, who owned a place in England called the Lake 
House," broke in Major Griffith, abruptly. 

"It was probably the same eccentric individual who 
lives near here," observed Mrs. Davenant, smiling 
suddenly round at him. 

Griffith shook his head. "No, the man I mean is 
dead, and a good job too. He was an out and out 
rascal." 

"But what about the Lake House Ghost?" broke 
in Colonel Lycett, impatiently. 

"No one seems to know very much about it," 
laughed Carlton. "Mrs. Davenant proposed to investi- 
gate it. I don't know if she has made any progress." 

"Keen as I am I'm afraid I've made none," she 



"n 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



158 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

answered. "I've never even passed the threshold.'* 

She met the stem blue eyes of Lycett and held them 
for a moment, then Griffith again claimed her attention 
eagerly. 

"Fm so glad to find so many British are keen," he 
exclaimed. "I wish you'd come over to us and put a 
little enthusiasm into Washington. We're all off on 
the wrong track there, but perhaps you know Wash- 
ington already?" 

"I've been there," replied Mrs. Davenant, "but 
many years ago. I cannot find out what is supposed 
to haunt the Lake House; no one seems to know." 

"How clever," thought Lester, as he listened intently. 
"She's steered him dean off Washington, and she's 
never turned a hair." 

As Mrs, Davenant confessed to having been in that 
city his eye had instinctively turned to Carlton, who 
was also listening. They had exchanged glances which 
were more hostile than friendly. Carlton's expression 
conveyed a contemptuous indifference to any proof, 
however strong or slender, against Mrs. Davenant's 
fair name. 

Warburton had now joined in the conversation rag- 
ing round ghosts, and the Americans evidently re- 
garded him, for a parson, as rather an amazing 
proposition. 

"First you must prove that the so-called dead 
actually leave us," he quietly remarked to Lady Tad- 
caster. 

"What a very unpleasant suggestion," she retorted. 

Warburton looked at her with perfect gravity, tak- 
ing no note of the laughter echoing round the table. 

"You'll agree, Lady Tadcaster, that I'm not here 
to minister to bodies, but to souls. Would you make 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 159 

me out a disbeliever in the object to which I am pro- 
fessed? If souls do not exist in a post-mortem state 
then my labor is in vain. There is no sense in my 
ministry." 

He spoke smilingly, but all could see that he was 
absolutely sincere. 

"Our contention was not that souls cease to exist 
after death, but that they do not return to earth," 
insisted Lady Tadcaster. "We have no proof that 
they do return." 

"We have no proof that they do not return," mildly 
insisted Warburton. 

In the general laugh which followed the little duel, 
the conversation drifted off into other subjects. A 
sudden constraint had fallen upon Mrs. Davenant and 
she sat in dreamy silence, only half listening to the 
light little stream of remarks the Master trickled into 
her ear. She felt as if she had received warning to 
guard the sacrets of her life even more closely than 
before. 

"Yet if they knew every detail would I really care?" 
she asked herself in a weary disdain. "Is there one 
exception that I dread?" She glanced involuntarily at 
Carlton and their eyes met. He smiled at her, and 
she felt she needs must smile again. 

Yet a thrill of apprehension ran through her. How 
unmistakable was that proud faith in his glance. He 
had heard something yet he trusted her. What had he 
heard? 

When the women once more found themselves in the 
library, Hilda left Mrs. Carlton and Lady Tadcaster 
talking to the others by the fire, whilst she moved over 
to a sofa and seated herself by Emily Warburton. 
She had no desire to be drawn into the conversation 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i6o THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

which had reverted back to ghosts. Every now and 
again a sentence or two was wafted over to her ears. 
Mrs. Hall was referring to the vicar — 

"It's so bad for a man not to be absolutely normal, 
don't you think so?" 

Hilda and Emily exchanged smiles. "By normal 
she means absolutely material. Ambrose never could 
be that," said his sister quietly. 

The entrance of the men prevented their exploiting 
the subject further, and Carlton at once drew her to a 
far comer of the room to show her some old pottery 
which had just been dug up in a neighboring field. 

"How beautiful your room looks to-night," she said, 
glancing away from him and round its spaciousness. 
She bent her head over some violets, and lifted their 
heads with her slender finger. 

"Will you accept those from me?" he asked. He 
lifted a bunch of white violets from a glass, and dried 
their stalks with his handkerchief. 

She took them at once without a trace of hesitation, 
and held them for a moment to her face. 

"How good of you. Major Carlton. Of course I'm 
delighted to have them. How sweet they do smell." 

She bent her head and placed them in a fold of 
her dress, where they lay against her breast, and he 
stood silently watching her, and thinking how beautiful 
was the setting of her head upon her lovely shoulders. 

"I've not had a word with you yet, and Fm off 
to-morrow morning," he said, drawing up a chair 
tmder a bower of azaleas, and throwing himself down 
by her side. "Will you promise to let me know if you 
come up to town?" 

"Why certainly," she responded. "Shall we do a 
play together?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY i6i 

"Rather! two or three plays! That'll be ripping. You 
do promise to come, don't you — ^I mean to town?'* 

"I can't absolutely promise," she replied with a gay 
little smile, "I hate making plans. I love to act on 
the spur of the moment. Look upon it as a possi- 
bility, but not a certainty." 

She saw his face fall. "It was all I had to look for- 
ward to," he said below his breath, but she caught the 
words. 

"When do you return here ?" she asked. 

"Oh! not for ages. Not till the second week in 
December. How am I to live without seeing you till 
then?" 

He bent down and looked into her eyes ; there was 
something in his face she had never seen before, a 
new expression, but she knew the meaning of those 
tones in his voice. 

She looked full at him with her soft speaking eyes. 
Her face was very grave, her voice very kind. 

"Just as you lived before we ever met. I don't 
want to lose your friendship, Major Carlton." She 
rose as she spoke. "I fear you are forgetting your 
duties as host." 

He jumped up instantly, and they moved across 
the room together, and as they passed Lady Tadcaster 
that lady detained her, and he mingled with his other 
guests. 

When the last carriage had driven off, when Mrs. 
Davenant's motor had rushed away into the silence of 
the night, Qaude Carlton retired to his own private 
den, and lighting a cigar gave himself up to thought. 
He had received a rebuff, but he did not acknowledge 
defeat. 

Hilda Davenant might imagine him defeated, but 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i62 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

he was far from being hopeless. He did not believe 
in giving in, till he was absolutely compelled. It was 
in the nature of his temperament to be very slow in 
desire, but once desire was awakened, to be tenacious 
and fight to the death for what he really wanted. Carl- 
ton did what all men will do till the Day of Judgment 
He made up his mind that he had found his mate, and 
he had no intentions of losing her again. 

Meanwhile a little family circle conversed softly 
round the fire in the library. Lady Tadcaster was sip- 
ping her second cup of tea, and smoking her before- 
bed cigarette. 

She spoke decisively and dogmatically. "There's 
not the faintest doubt as to his infatuation. The mat- 
ter really resolves itself into this : Is she free to marry 
him or is she not?" 

"You think it a certainty she will accept him if she 
is free?'' questioned her sister anxiously. 

"I think it so certain that I made a point of being 
extremely agreeable, almost affectionate to her. I 
always am very nice to pretty widows and pretty girls* 
One never knows who they will become." 

"I'm not so sure, Qara," chimed in Lester, rubbing 
his thin hands up and down his long thin legs. "I'm 
inclined to think there's an impediment somewhere in 
the background. I tried to draw Lycett, but found 
him very uncommunicative. He didn't yield to my 
blandishments, though I spotted at once he could say 
a lot if he chose : 'What is that lady's name? I didn't 
catch it,' he asked, indicating Miss Howard. 'Miss 
Agnes Howard. She and Mrs. Davenant live together. 
I suppose before they came here they lived together in 
Washington,' I answered casually, and watched his 
face. Even his iron-gray mask wasn't proof against 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT AT BAY 163 

the stunning surprise he felt. I caught him glancing 
at her in a curious puzzled way, several times during 
the evening.** 

Mrs. Cariton put down her teacup with a little 
clatter. 

"Oh! I do so hate all this suspicion and prying," 
she exclaimed, rubbing up her monocle vigorously. 
"If only I could be sure that Claudie couldn't marry 
her I wouldn't care a straw what her past life had been. 
I'd gladly accept her for what she now appears to be^ 
a gentlewoman, and a pleasant member of our little 
country circle." 

Lester smiled grimly. "Of course we all know that 
a woman can change her character with her hat — after 
all, what are most heads? — ^merely hat pegs. I don't 
think you'll be kept long in suspense, Sibyl. I guess 
matters will very rapidly come to a head. I have 
rarely passed so interesting an evening. Women 
ought to be studied like meteorology ; they're a distinct 
science, and, like the weather, of infinite variety; 
Claudie and the beautiful Mrs. Davenant; the Master 
trying to avoid his wife's gimlets, and making the run- 
ning on his own account. Poor Warburton and the 
mysterious Agnes Howard. I really am very lucky; 
some people never meet anything interesting. They 
may found a new faith, and lead a forlorn hope with- 
out encountering a thrill, whilst I can't even take a 
taxi to Paddington without encountering matter 
enough for a Shilling Shocker." 

"I never really feel well when nothing's going on," 
remarked Lady Tadcaster, sympathetically. "Men of 
to-day have a passion for celebrities, a sort of relent- 
less hunting after notoriety. We've got so confused 
by the war that we're always doing the wrong thing 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i64 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

without knowing it, and knowing the right thing with- 
out doing it. The worst kind of women are always 
the most attractive. They take such pains over their 
nails and their eyebrows." 

Mrs. Carlton got up hastily. "I'm going to bed. 
There's cubbing to-morrow morning, and it's just on 
midnight. Good-night, Clara. Lester, you'll see to the 
lights." 

Lester closed the door and returned softly to the 
hearthrug. 

"Poor Sibyl. She's got a rough time before her, I 
fear," he whispered as he lit a cigarette. 

Lady Tadcaster shrugged her shoulders, and began 
to hunt for a shoe which had gone astray. 

"Oh! I don't know. It may come all right. Mrs. 
Davenant gives me the impression of being self-made, 
and she's taken a lot of trouble over her work. The 
really hopeless people are those who have been made 
by some one else." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XIII 

MUTUAL CONFESSION 

"T^ONT let us talk till we reach home," 

-L' Hilda Davenant lay back in her luxurious 
seat, and closed her eyes, as the car ran swiftly down 
Great Glentworth avenue. Apparently Agnes Howard 
was equally disinclined for conversation, for she also 
drew back into her comer and was silent. 

In the few minutes it took to complete the journey 
both brains worked hard at their different problems, 
which were complicated enough, and Hilda Davenant's 
steps were almost weary as she led the way to the little 
boudoir adjoining her bedroom. 

"You can go to bed, Marie, I won't require you any 
more to-night," she said to the maid, who stood at 
the dressing-table awaiting her. Then she shut the 
communicating door, and lit a cigeratte. "I suppose 
we ought to talk over matters," she said in a dull, 
indifferent voice. 

Agnes made a gesture of irritation. 

"Oh! I suppose so," she echoed. '*Let's stir up 
the fire." She threw on a log, and the two women faced 
each other. "But after all, Hilda, why should we? 
.What can it really matter to you or to me?" 

Mrs. Davenant shrugged indifferently, and drew 
forward a chair. 

"Absolutely nothing at all," she agreed, "but whilst 

165 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i66 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

we are on the crest of the wave of a new crisis isn't it 
better to face it, dissect it, and decide our future pro- 
cedure?" They looked straight into one another's 
eyes. "Agnes," went on Mrs. Davenant, "are you pre- 
pared to lay all your cards upon the table?" 

For a second or two Miss Howard hesitated. She 
did not pretend to misunderstand the meaning of the 
question, and a faint color rose in her olive cheeks. 

"Yes ! Hilda ! If you are prepared to do likewise," 
she replied quietly. 

"Right ! Then let us begin to arrange them in order. 
What are you going to do about Ambrose Warburton? 
What am I going to do about Claude Carlton? How 
much is Colonel Lycett going to reveal to the Halls? 
What does Carlton already suspect? How much does 
Griffith know?" 

Agnes listened, staring meditatively into the fire. 
There was silence for a few minutes, then she spoke 
slowly, weighing each word that fell from her lips. 

"Firstly, dear, I think we must eliminate any per- 
sonal feelings. Both men must be discussed from a 
purely impersonal standpoint. We may accept the 
fact that Ambrose Warburton cares for me. He has 
not said so, but my experience in the past makes me 
certain of the present. He may never ask me to he 
his wife, believing that duty to his sister requires him 
to remain single. If he did propose to me then he 
would have to be told certain facts. How would they 
affect him ? He and Emily know that once I was en- 
gaged to a man who left me for another woman, but 
they know nothing of the facts connected with my love 
affair — ^the facts that really matter, and that make our 
friendship so strange and yet so sacred." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



mutual; confession 167 

Mrs. Davenant watched her attentively. A' faint 
smile curved her lips. 

"You see, dear," she said very gently, "we cannot 
eliminate the personal note. Ambrose would only need 
to be told facts in the event of your considering his 
offer of marriage. Would you, under normal circum- 
stances, take that possibility into consideration?" 

Again Miss Howard did not finish. "Yes, I would," 
she replied, candidly, "I suppose there is always in us 
the passion for the unattainable. The desire of the 
moth for the star. Incongruous as it may seem that I 
could contemplate becoming the wife of a country par- 
son, Ambrose is intensely sympathetic to me. Even the 
life appeals to me, after all the buffeting I have been 
through in the past. I have sometimes dreamed that 
even yet I might drink of that love which was the ideal 
of the universal spirit, when women and men were first 
created. Having said so much, let us leave it at that, 
Hilda, so the question really doesn't arise." 

There was no bitterness in her voice. It was quite 
cold and calm. Years ago she had made a certain 
choice, which she knew would in all probability militate 
most seriously against any future hopes of marriage. 

"He is not going to be told by us, but he may be 
told by some one else," was Hilda's dry retort. "Lord 
Lester is hot foot on some scent, and Mrs. Carlton is 
uneasy enough to make her cautious, and prone to 
listen to him. As to Claude Carlton, I will be as frank 
with you as you have been with me. Had it been pos- 
sible; if I could marry any man I would marry him. 
If he knew all, I believe he would still wish to marry 
me. Of course one is apt to think bachelors would 
make the best husbands, just as one often thinks what 
good bachelors married men would make. Still, I 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i68 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

think Claude Carlton a great gentleman/' she went on 
musingly. "I have always looked forward to meeting 
once again some one who was really my ideal of what 
a great gentleman could be, and Claude Carlton comes 
up to that ideal. I have sdiooled myself to look upon 
true happiness as an improbability. I had it for just 
long enough to know what it meant, and then it was 
wrenched from me. Yet, in my heart, I have always 
felt that the pendulum of fate must some day swing as 
far back towards joy as it has swung forwards to- 
wards misery in the past. The world really belongs 
to woman, owing to man's incapacity to do without 
her. The only advantages men possess are those women 
don't want. I can't really tell you what I feel for 
Qaude Carlton. I'm not sure that I know, but I 
guess it's nothing but the longing to feel again a man's 
head on my breast. Ah well! You, who know all 
there is to know about me, must be aware how weak I 
am in all real temptations." 

Agnes shook her head. ''Not weak, Hilda, but al- 
ways swayed by impulses of the heart, which in you 
are so much stronger than impulses of the head." 

There was bitter sweetness in Hilda's smile. "I 
would do the same could I have my life over again. 
I regret nothing in the life I've lived after I knew you. 
My trust, and the honor I held you in, restored my 
own. Oh ! my dear, never in this world were the in- 
most spirits of two women so entirely in harmony. 
We have both come through great suffering, and what 
I owe to you can never be repaid. Such nobility as 
yours, Agnes, can only be its own reward. None other 
is worthy of it." 

"Oh ! my dear ! my dear !" cried Agnes in a voice of 
expostulation. She waved her hand, as if to banish 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MUTUAL CONFESSION 169 

sentiment. "Now, let us confront the menace of Major 
Griffith and Colonel Lycett/* she went on briskly, 
throwing off her momentary emotion. "Of course 
Lycett recognized me. He remembered my name. 
How could he fail to do otherwise, when he was coun- 
sel for the prosecution, and obtained the verdict? He 
suspected you, and I should say he certainly remem- 
bered you under another name. What use will he 
make of his information?" 

"None," promptly retorted Mrs. Davenant. "I 
felt quite at ease in his presence. He's a gentleman, 
and not of the type to deliberately injure a woman. Be- 
sides, was he not on our side? He will say nothing. 
Griffith we may eliminate. We know nothing of him, or 
how much he knows of us. Lord Lester is different. 
He is a bom gossip, and he'll do all he can to discover 
something that will save Qaude from me. He hopes 
I am not in a position to marry any man. He will try 
to make certain. Lady Tadcaster is a potential enemy. 
If ever a woman is really 'catty' it is when her looks 
are going. As to Major Carlton, I have tried to make 
him understand how useless it is to pursue me, but 
he's a persistent type, and seems determined to ship- 
wreck his life on the rock that broke up Adam." 

"Perhaps we ought to leave the neighborhood." 

"No, I won't do that," answered Mrs. Davenant 
promptly. "I'm not going to leave Letty and Harry 
without a friend." 

Agnes laughed. "You've absolutely adopted those 
two delightful children. They've brought a wonderful 
new interest into your life, Hilda." 

Mrs. Davenant smiled rather self-consciously. "I 
acknowledge they have. I'm really fond of them both. 
When I was Letty's age I hadn't a friend in the world, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



170 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

and I used always to promise myself that if ever I 
succeeded in life, I would help the friendless — sl fellow- 
feeling, you understand, and their young enthusiasm 
is so delightful to me. How strange that so charming 
a man as Harry should belong to the Lake House, how 
curious to think of Letty living there in years to 
come." 

She sank into a listless posture in her chair, and 
folding her arms behind her head stared up at the 
ceiling; then she drew a long breath that was half a 
sigh. 

"The Lake House has a fascination for me. I feel 
drawn towards it, yet I hate it. Do you know what it 
is to feel as if your heart were wrinkled, Agnes? I 
suppose I have the sort of nature that invites suffering. 
They say suffering is so good for us, don't they?" 

"Possibly it is, up to a certain point, but I've reason 
to know how it can cripple and dwarf." 

"It hasn't hurt your real self, Agnes. You have 
never played the butterfly as I have; or chosen to be- 
long to the mindless many, for whom life has no other 
use than to provide them with the largest share in ani- 
mal pleasures, which they can always attain by hook, 
crook or cook." 

"The trouble is, my dear, that by nature you are 
subject to moments of hideous clarity," laughed 
Agnes, "and it was those moments that poisoned town 
life for you. For five years your duty towards the 
men with whom you lunched, dined and supped, was 
to keep thought at bay, and skillfully hide away any 
show of intellect. You've quite wisely remembered 
that Mars loved Venus, not Minerva, and that the 
average man dislikes a brainy woman. You are hardly 
that, but you're extremely intelligent, so much so that 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MUTUAL CONFESSION 171 

all through your life youVe succeeded in disguising the 
fact at will. You rather remind me of Mr. Wells* 
Joan in 'Joan and Peter.' You remember her hideous 
moments of clarity at the night clubs. For years 
you've tried to be rapid and vapid, now the reaction 
has come, the strain has begun to tell." 

"Ah! how I agonized in my moments of clarity," 
Mrs, Davenant spoke dreamily, almost to herself. "I've 
always been subject to th^m, throughout all my very 
checkered career. They always arrived at the wrong 
time; just when I had settled down at some revue, 
that had been swept clear of all lucidity and coherence 
to suit mob mentality. Just when suitably dressed, or 
rather undressed, to match the place, the diners and 
winers ; when I had schooled myself to utter vacuity — 
then my mind would begin to work. Then came that 
devastating sense of utter isolation through which I'd 
to play up. I found it increasingly hard to play up, 
yet I was only doing the same as hundreds of other 
pretty women, whose war-work was the cultivation 
of oblivion of war. I began to do it badly. I needed 
a rest. I knew all along that certain glib fallacies were 
pure nonsense. The men went singing and laughing 
over the top. The soul of the war, and the joy and 
pride of dying in a just cause.' " 

She laughed scornfully. "I always knew that the 
soldier had thought, when he had time to think, of 
something absolutely different. That is why he had 
to be doped, why his short leave had to be robbed of all 
reality. The things he really did think of had to be 
blotted out That is why no man now speaks of his 
war experiences. Ah ! Well, those horrors are passed, 
and I'm happier here and now than I've ever been be- 
fore. I've got that delightful contentment which 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



172 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

is ambition run to seed. I've got a past that streams 
behind me like a comet's tail, but I'm going to shut 
the door on it, and live in the present for the future. 
I'm going to be a mother to Letty and Harry, and 
damn the consequences, as some brilliant creature once 
said in the House of Commons." 

"I believe that is our best line to take," returned 
Agnes quietly. "Our sense of humor ought to save 
us from tragedy, the tragedy of meeting two men 
whom we would marry to-morrow if we could." 

"If we dared," echoed Hilda. 

Mrs. Davenant lit another cigarette, and a silence 
fell between them. A few hours before, and the past 
had been as if forgotten. Now it had stirred uneasily 
in its grave, and thrown to the surface of life many 
an incident which had been consigned to oblivion. 
Both women were realizing that things forgotten are 
not dead, that nothing really dies, no matter how deep 
may be the grave into which it is cast. 

Then Mrs. Davenant spoke again. "I should thor- 
oughly have enjoyed our evening, but for the U.S.A. 
butting in. I loved seeing all the pre-war silver come 
to light again, and the excellent cooking and the 
flowers." She stopped short and taking a bunch of 
withered violets from her breast she tossed them into 
the fire. "I like the quiet, easy service. I loved the 
beauty of the room, and indeed of the whole house. 
It's the sort of beauty not bom, but accumulated by 
time, and I love the way it persists in spite of the 
world's tumult. I could picture myself at the head of 
that table, Agnes, and picture myself a very happy 
woman." 

"You picture the stuff that dreams arc made of, 
dear Hilda." 



Digiti 



g*tized by Google 



MUTUAL CONFESSION 173 

"Dreams are all that are left to you and to me." 

Agnes smiled a trifle contemptuously. "Yet we are 
about to be faced by a stem reality — ^being cut by the 
county." 

Hilda laughed suddenly. "What an appalling pros- 
pect, yet somehow it has no terrors for me. You wise 
woman, how do you think of those profundities, yet I 
expect you're right." She laid her fingers on the dia- 
monds glittering on her neck. "I saw Lady Tadcas- 
ter's eyes fixed on these stones, and I knew what she 
was thinking: 'Magdalenes were stoned in the past. 
They are still stoned, only now the stones come from 
South Africa.' Fve half a mind to try a new experi- 
ence. The last sensation left to me." 

"It will only be an old one with a new name, Hilda* 
There aren't any new sensations." 

"There is the sensation of goodness. I haven't* 
tried that yet." 

"Because you can't possibly define goodness. It's 
often nothing but a lack." 

"Ah ! Well ! I'm tired of everything, so it will be a 
new thrill to be tired of nothing," retorted Mrs. Dave- 
nant. "I've found life a tragedy, but I've always 
treated it as a comedy. Well! we're both agreed not 
to worry if the county turns its back upon us." 

"That is the line I should take, Hilda. I don't feel 
inclined to put up with any snubs. My motto has been, 
and always will be, They say. What say they? Let 
them say.' Now I am for bed and oMivion." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XIV 

CONFRONTED 

THE Ghost's Walk was sodden and dreary, and 
the constant dripping of the rain outside the 
window reminded Letty Thome of the ghostly foot- 
steps she so often heard in the silent watches of the 
night. It was the last week in November, and for 
many days the weather had been intensely dark and 
depressing. i 

Letty was sitting in her bedroom darning her stock- 
ings. She often now retired there, preferring absolute 
solitude to the strain of sitting silently, hour after hour 
with an old man who constantly exhibited signs of ad- 
vanced insanity. The many weeks she had spent under 
his roof had done nothing to draw her to his heart. 
He still preserved the trying silence that had been 
maintained between them from the beginning. ^ 

If there was any change in the attitude of Mrs. 
Greatrex it was an adverse one. It was plain to see 
that she was intensely annoyed at the long stay the 
solitary guest was making at the Lake House, yet 
Letty had begun to save her a considerable amount of. 
labor. 

After that strange lapse into almost genial hospital- 
ity, when Geoffrey Thorpe had assured his niece that 
he was willing she would remain with him as long as 
it suited her to stay, Letty searched out Sarah Grea- 

174 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 175 

trex, and asked to be given a share of the house work. 
"My own bedroom is not enough. Let me keep some 
of the other rooms clean/' she urged. 

Sarah regarded her scowlingly and suspiciously for a 
second or two, then she rapped out, "It's not worth 
while for the short time you'll be here." 

"But I don't know how long I shall be here,'* 
Letty persisted. "Mr. Thorpe has kindly said I may 
remain as long as I please." 

Mrs. Greatrex wheeled suddenly round, her eyes 
sparkling with anger. 

"Whatl" she cried harshly, "Geoffrey Thorpe said 
that? Never! I don't believe it." 

"Why not ask him?" suggested Letty mildly, and 
with that she walked out of the kitchen. She always 
strove to avoid acrimonious discussions, which might 
so easily end in loss of temper. 

A few days later, on meeting the housekeeper on the 
stairs, the woman accosted her abruptly. 

"As you seem to have nothing to do but idle away 
your time, you'd better undertake to keep the hall and 
front staircase clean, and you could wash up the dinner 
dishes. The gardener cleans the knives." Without 
waiting for an answer to this insolent speech Sarah 
ran downstairs and passed out of sight. 

By this token Letty Thome concluded that the 
housekeeper and the master had discussed the subject 
of her staying on, and the woman had been forced into 
a very unwilling acquiescence to her remaining. 

The house work Letty attacked with a will, and 
happy results were very soon apparent. It was impossi- 
ble not to remember tiiat all those antique, and often 
beautiful objects which she now began to save from 
decay, would one day belong to Harry, and consequent- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



176 THE BEAUTIFtTL MRS. DAVENANT 

ly to herself. It set a personal value upon her work, 
which otherwise would have resolved itself into a 
mere form of pajrment for board and lodging. 

There is something uncanny in exploring any 
dwelling, the rooms of which have been locked up and 
unvisited for years; places that have been once con- 
secrated to humanity, but have afterwards been aban- 
doned to solitude and slow decay. Letty was not free 
to range all over the Lake House. To her uncle's 
wing she never dreamed of penetrating, and her 
passage along two other corridors was barred by a 
tape stretched across, and sealed at each end, bearing 
the sad legend in Geoffrey Thorpe's handwriting — 

"No passage this way. Flooring unsafe." 

Knowing the condition of the rooms that were lived 
in, this warning did not surprise Letty. She concluded 
that the room her uncle invariably occupied was the 
original morning room. She had discovered many 
bedrooms all resembling each other. They contained 
immense beds, carpets dull with thick dust islanded 
amid a black sea of oak; cupboards large enough to 
live in, and dark portraits hanging upon the walls. 
There was a great, dreary library with locked book- 
cases, and a large organ carved with fruit and flowers. 
In the vast drawing-room every chair and sofa stood in 
its appointed place, as though they had grown like 
bushes through the dusty carpet. Upon the tables and 
mantelshelves the dust had settled like a thick gray pall. 

On fine mornings Letty ventured to let the blessed 
sunshine into all those shuttered rooms. It glanced 
upon the stem ancestral faces on the walls, and through 
their dust evoked a look of life. The golden sunbeams 
fell upon old brocaded hangings and embroidered cov- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 177 

ers, but they had no power to warm ; all things struck 
cold. The dark oak panels chilled her from their wave- 
less depths, like the frozen silence of the organ and 
web-festooned harp. It seemed to Letty that all things 
seemed cursed in that accursed house. The hallowed 
places were desecrated, and where hospitality and good 
fellowship were meant to reign all was barren and soli- 
tary. 

Certainly there were hours when Letty found life at 
the Lake House very hard to endure, but pressure was 
put upon her from two sources urging patience. 

Miss Fanny Thorpe seemed in no hurry to receive 
her back at Hammersmith. 

"Your uncle seems quite satisfied that you should 
remain at the Lake House, and I hope you will do all 
you can to guard him against the machinations of 
Sarah Greatrex, whom I mistrust extremely." 

Letty as she read this letter could not refrain from 
smiling broadly at this suggestion. Aunt Fanny 
seemed to have no conception how entirely Sarah ruled 
the entire estate, and how little either the master or 
his niece had to say in its management. 

"Food," went on Miss Thorpe, "being at famine 
prices it is a great relief to me to know that you are 
being well fed at some one else's expense. There is but 
little difference between my age and my brother's, and 
though I can hardly hope to benefit by his vast savings 
he may, if you play your cards well, leave a legacy 
which will save you thinking of marriage, and the 
indignity of being supported by any man. I never 
saw the need for marriage myself. You see how com- 
fortably I live, and how free from worry I am, and I 
trust the same comfort may be yours in your old age." 

"Poor Aunt Fanny," thought Letty, "never to have 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



178 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

known the joys of love. To find haiq)iness in the snug 
physical comfort she holds to be all important. Weill 
I*d rather have some one to love, some one to work for, 
and God be thanked that I have found that some one, 
to make life infinitely sweet to me." 

It had long been apparent to Letty Thome that her 
aunt's violent opposition to her marriage with Harry 
Thorpe arose from jealousy. Miss Fanny, in her heart 
of hearts, deeply resented the fact that none of her 
brother's hoarded gold came her way. Her comfortable 
little income she spent entirely on herself, and found 
it provided all she needed, yet she bitterly resented the 
possibility of her niece marrying the heir to the Lake 
House, and eventually inheriting all the accumulated 
wealth that would go with it at her brother's death. 

This contemptible meanness of soul was a source of 
deep shame to Letty Thome, and she never spoke of 
it, even to her lover. Both believed that if they made 
their engagement public before Harry had made 
enough money to support a wife. Miss Fanny would 
repudiate her niece, and deny her a home. In none of 
his letters did Harry Thorpe omit to urge upon his 
Letty the necessity for making the best of present cir- 
cumstances. 

"Keep your thoughts fixed on the future, darling, 
and don't be daunted by the gray present. The old 
man must in time yield to your sweetness, and in spite 
of its melancholy I can't help feeling glad that you are 
already living under the roof that will one day be your 
own. Be at the old trysting-place on Friday at raid- 
day, and gladden the eyes of 

"Your adoring, 

"Harry/' 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 179 

Letty's eyes dwelt lingeringly on those last words, 
and she kissed the paper tenderly. At that moment 
she felt it would be easy to bear with Sarah's insolence, 
and the old man's eccentricities, but what was harder 
to endure was the shadow of hateful mystery that hung 
over the house. Those ghostly footsteps, that curious, 
uncanny dragging sound that came so often from the 
wall behind her bed. No solution had come, and no 
stretch of her imagination could form any possible 
conjecture. Any attempt she had dared stealthily to 
make towards unmasking the mystery had utterly 
failed. 

There were nights when she defied fear, and nights 
when fear defied her, and played havoc with her 
nerves. The enigma remained unsolved, as baflSing 
now as it had been at the beginning. 

The attitude of the neighbors might have been a 
great solace to Letty, had she not discovered at once 
that curiosity largely tempered their hospitality. 
Though no one had approached the Lake House in 
search of her, she had made numerous friends througfii 
the instrumentality of Mrs. Davenant and the Warbur- 
tons. Many of those pleasant people had expressed 
considerable interest in the strange rumors afloat con- 
cerning Geoffrey Thorpe and his house, and Letty 
found many of their questions extremely difficult to 
parry. The ghost of the Lake House was not looked 
upon as a family secret, it was considered common 
property, and a legitimate subject for inquiry, and 
Letty's reticence only added fuel to the fire of curiosity 
consuming the neighborhood. 

The pale, wild rose beauty of the girl served as a 
piquant contrast; to the mysterious and gloomy 
dwelling from whence she came. Her appearance in 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i8o THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

their midst, the probabilities of her stay at the Lake 
House being of long duration, and the whispered sug- 
gestion of her engagement to Harry Thorpe, the heir, 
all added a certain romance to the affair, and revived 
with ever-growing force the languid interest that for- 
merly had been taken in the reputed ghostly hauntings 
at the Lake House, and the weird manner of life of 
its present owner. 

Letty Thome often wondered if her uncle knew of 
these friendships she had made in the neighborhood. 
She was convinced that Mrs. Greatrex was perfectly 
well aware of all her movements, and she concluded it 
was probable that she imparted her knowledge to her 
master. Signs were not lacking to show that those 
two were on very confidential terms, though it was 
clear there was no love lost between them. Often 
Letty had discovered them seated together engaged in 
earnest conversation, but on her arrival on the scene 
Sarah would at once rise, abruptly break off the con- 
versation, and quit the room. It was then a matter of 
course to see the old man again drop his haggard head 
over his papers, and wrap himself once more in his 
mantle of impenetrable silence. 

"He doesn't mind where I go, what I do, or whom 
I speak to, so long as no human creature sets foot on 
his soil," thought the girl, quite content that things 
should be so. She had not the least desire to invite 
any one into the dismal precincts of the Lake House, 
and because of those secret meetings with her lover 
it was to her own interest to keep at bay the outer 
world. 

It was quite a long time since Harry Thorpe had 
been able to snatch a brief holiday. Labor troubles 
in his engineering firm had thrown additional work 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED i8i 

upon his shoulders, but on this intensely longed-for 
day Harry was due to arrive at the old trysting-place 
at midday, and at half-past one they were to lunch at 
Little Glentworth. ''Agnes and I will be quite alone/* 
Mrs. Davenant had said, "and it will be a positive 
charity to bring your Harry to cheer us up in this 
depressing weather." 

The morning had broken dark and dreary, but sun- 
shine was in Letty's heart when she awakened, and 
remembered what the swift-flying hours were to bring 
her. Now, as she rolled up Tier work preparatory to 
donning her hat, a pale gleam of wintry sunshine broke 
through the heavy clouds, and fell across the polished 
floor of the somber old room. She looked into her own 
eyes in the mirror and saw the lights of happiness 
strengthening in them, as the waves of love pulsed in 
her heart. Harry was thinking of her, sending out his 
soul to her, and she responded by sending out her soul 
to him. Formerly she had turned away from her 
mirror with a sigh, now the change in her was very 
apparent. Despite the nervous fears she suffered from, 
rest and good plain food, and the fresh country air had 
worked wonders for her. The pale cheeks were faintly 
tinged with carmine now, and the gray, lack-luster 
eyes were brilliant. In place of the shabby old black 
frock she wore on arrival, she now was smartly turned 
out in a dark blue coat and skirt, which was a gift from 
Mrs. Davenant. That fairy godmother had insisted on 
rearranging the masses of pale hair which Letty wore 
so simply drawn back and rolled up behind. For an 
hour she had submitted herself to the deft hands of 
the French maid, who, after going through various 
experiments finally expressed herself well content when 
she had fashioned a wonderful coil that looked like a 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i82 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

spiral shell of pale gold on the top of the dainty little 
head. Letty had learned to reproduce this wonder for 
herself, and she now surveyed it with immense satis- 
faction, as she pinned on a jaunty little felt hat dec- 
orated with sprightly little feathers. 

"Still! I'm glad he first loved me when I was a 
little shabby, tired, pale thing, whom no one would ever 
call pretty,'' she said to herself as she took up her 
gloves and prepared to leave the room. 

How good Mrs. Davenant and Miss Howard had 
been to her ! Her heart swelled with gratitude towards 
them, as she tripped along the Ghost's Walk on her 
way to the trysting-place. What a vast difference 
these two women had made in her life ! Mrs. Davenant 
was always thinking of something which would give 
her pleasure, and had made her so many presents that 
she felt very shy of accepting any more. Then she was 
so sweet to Harry, and oh ! so deeply sympathetic over 
their love affair. Letty had arrived at the conclusion 
that there was no woman in the wide world to compare 
with Mrs. Davenant, and she frankly adored her. 

It was a very tender meeting between the lovers 
after those weeks of absence, and when the first trans- 
port of their love had subsided, Harry held her away 
from him and looked her up and down, his face crin- 
kled in a puzzled smile. 

"You've done something to yourself; what is it?" 
he asked. 

"Don't you like it, Harry darling?" 

"But I can't even spot what it is, so how can I 
tell?" he retorted laughing. "Somehow you look more 
grown up. Not so much of a wild rose as a lovely 
lily. To me you're always lovely, Letty." 

"And to me you are the most beloved being in the 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 183 

wide, wide world/' she declared, and kissed him very 
gently to seal her words. 

They walked on now, slowly, towards the old sum- 
mer house, his arm about her, her fair head thrown 
back against his shoulder. The short winter day was 
breaking into stmshine like a smile, before closing its 
brief hours in darkness, and as they walkeS she told 
him of all the kindness showered upon her by the 
ladies at Little Glentworth. It was so heavenly to 
discover such warm hearts in a world which hitherto 
had been none too kind to her, and she spoke of them 
with the ardor of a boundless gratitude. 

Suddenly, in the midst of those confidences her 
voice was hushed, and by a common impulse they both 
stood still. For the first time they found themselves 
confronted in that lonely spot by another human be- 
ing. 

In the doorway of the old summer house stood 
Geoffrey Thorpe, looking straight at them. 

For a few seconds sheer amazement at seeing the 
recluse out of doors and in such weather held Letty 
spell-bound. Was this the real man or his ghost? 
Then she hastily collected her senses on hearing his 
voice. 

*'May I inquire what is the meaning of this?" he 
inquired, and the bleakness of his voice was cut by a 
bitter sarcasm. 

Harry drew Letty still closer to him, and faced his 
kinsman undaunted. His irrepressible humor, his in- 
variable propensity to see the funny side of every 
contretemps banished the former gravity of his face. 
His veiiy eyes smiled into the grim, angry gaze of the 
old man, who leaned forward menacingly, supporting 
himself on his stout staff. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i84 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 



"T 



*I should have thought the meaning was fairly 
obvious, sir, unless, for the moment you thought we 
were posing for the cinema. I'm so glad to see you 
take advantage of this dream of stmshine, and come 
out for a breath of air. May I hope also that the 
sight of two devoted young lovers will refresh your 
heart and gladden your eyes. Surely it must recall to 
you many tender recollections of your youth, of those 
bygone days when you, too, experienced the bliss of 
loving and being loved. I trust our engagement meets 
with your approval." 

Harry had been stringing words together in a sort 
of desperate effort to gain time, but he showed no 
signs of the inward trepidation he felt. The old man 
was staring from one to the other, but there was no 
approval in the malignant expression of his haggard 
face. 

"Engagement!" he shouted furiously. "What 
damned mockery is this between two paupers? You'll 
get nothing from me. What do you propose to live 
on?" 

"Had we calculated upon your assistance to pro- 
vide us with bread and butter we certainly would not 
now be engaged," retorted Harry, spiritedly. "Pray 
do not worry on our account, Mr. Thorpe. We are 
perfectly capable of managing our own affairs." 

Harry's voice was perfectly courteous, despite the 
disdain of his words, and Geoffrey Thorpe's face lost 
some of its vindictiveness. 

"All very fine for you, young man, but you'll per- 
haps permit me to suggest that my niece has had no 
opportunity of judging you by comparison with 
others," he sneered. 

Harry glanced down at the face of the girl whose 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 185 

arm he stUl held tightly. He had never seen her look 
like that, and his heart thrilled with joy and pride. 
She held her little head high and defiant, and a look 
of power, of supreme and flame-like passion lighted her 
face from chin to brow. 

I "I have made my own choice irrevocably, Uncle, 
as I have the right to do. There is but one soul in 
this world who could alter my intentions. That soul 
is Harry himself." 

"Ah !" exclaimed Geoffrey Thorpe, grimly, "I see.*** 

Suddenly a new thought seemed to strike him, and 
his manner, changed to a sort of nervous eagerness. 

"I had hoped to make you my heiress, Letty. I 
will do so still, if you will be wise and give up this 
absurd engagement. I have wealth that I can leave 
to whom I please." 

Letty's face softened. "I do not want your wealth. 
Uncle Geoffrey. When I see how miserable it has 
made you, how could I be tempted by it? One can- 
not be more than happy, and I have happiness in full 
measure." 

Again the old man's attitude of almost cringing 
eagerness changed to biting anger. 
I "One thing is certain. You have no present pros- 
pects of being able to marry," he exclaimed tri- 
umphantly. 

"And why should you rejoice over that. Uncle? 
Would you rather see misery than happiness?" ques- 
tioned Letty with gentle tenderness. 
, The pity in her voice pricked him, and he turned 
on her furiously. 

"Hold your peace, girl. Long engagements are the 
greatest mistake. You are throwing away your life, 
and recollect I may live for years yet, and by that time 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i86 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

you will be old and ugly. If you are wise you will 
both agree to forget this foolery." 

Harry laughed aloud in scornful derision; his tol- 
erant good humor was giving way 'to something 
harder. 

"Live as long as you please, sir. I'm no searcher 
after dead men's shoes. In my position it would have 
been perfectly possible for me to raise money on my 
future prospects. I have not done so. I prefer that 
my own exertions shall provide for the wife I have 
chosen. In place of forgetting, Letty and I only grow 
fonder of one another every day. She has no one in 
the world but me. I have no one in the world but 
her. Please don't delude yourself into the belief that 
an3rthing you may say could part us." 

Geoffrey Thorpe struck the ground furiously with 
his sta^. 

"What damnable insolence. How dare you address 
me in such a manner? You, who are nothing but an 
impudent trespasser on my lands! Begone with you, 
and never let me set eyes on your face again. One thing, 
before I leave you to your unspeakable folly. Remem- 
ber — ^there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, 
Harry Thorpe, and you may yet drop into your grave 
without fingering a farthing of the Lake House rental. 
Take my advice, say good-by, and forget each other." 

With a final gesture of supreme contempt he passed 
them by and went on his way. 

The lovers stood silently watching the bent, retreat- 
ing figure, till it was lost to sight round a bend of the 
path, then Harry swung round with a careless laugh, t 

"What a dear old gentleman," he chaffed, but 
Letty's face was sad and very grave. 

"Oh! Harry. How terrible to grow old like that," 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CONFRONTED 187 

she whispered tragically. **How can any man make 
himself so perfectly detestable?" 

Harry kissed the smiles back to her face, and strove 
to calm her natural agitation. He silently agreed with 
her, that such old age was indeed tragic, but outwardly 
he made light of the whole affair. 

"We mustn't take too seriously what the old boy 
says, darling. We've always agreed he's very dotty. 
If ever I grow like that, Letty, have no mercy upon 
me. Watch me carefully, and if ever you see the 
faintest tendency to heredity in that direction, nip it 
unflinchingly in the bud, and then peck me as hard as 
ever you can." 

"Well, now, that's over," he continued, drawing 
her down into the crazy old summer house seat, "and 
a rattling good thing too. We're going to have no 
more nonsense, darling. We'll announce our engage- 
ment openly to-day, when we arrive at Little Glent- 
worth, and we'll hang the consequences. Are you pre- 
pared for that, my sweetheart?" 

"I'm prepared to take any course you suggest, 
Harry," she answered as if suddenly waking up to 
life again, "but I can't get over my amazement at 
seeing unde standing confronting us. I'm sure he's 
known all along that we met here, and was determined 
to put a stop to it. Now, he's forbidden us to meet 
here again." 

"That doesn't matter. There are lots of other 
places," retorted Harry, then seeing that her soft eyes 
were dimmed as if with unshed tears, he bent his head 
above her upraised face and their lips met. 

"I was awfully proud of you, darling, when you 
hurled defiance at the old ogre,'* he whispered. "We 
don't want a special dispensation from Geoffr^ 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



i88 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

Thorpe in order to get married. We are marrying for 
love, and that's good enough to go on with. As for 
coming here again, well, we'll meet in future at Little 
Glentworth, and until the day when your husband and 
natural protector is given the joy of taking care of 
you for always/' 

"You are everything on earth to me, Harry. I could 
not go on living without you now,*' she said with a 
little catch in her voice. 

He held her close to him. He felt giddy with pure 
happiness, against which no obstacle could stand up. 

"It is fine to be well dowered with this world's 
goods, but it's still better to be given love — ^the dower 
of Heaven," he whispered, with all the passion of his 
youth in voice and eyes. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER Xy 

warburton's advice 

**QO you'll meet here in future, that will be ddight- 
^ ful, and what I've always wished for." 

They had drawn round the fire after a very cheery 
lunch, and Mrs. Davenant and Agnes Howard had 
listened with the most flattering interest to the story 
the lovers unfolded. 

Outside, the daylight had already begun to fade 
away into a pale primrose west, and Hilda Davenant 
switched on a light by her chair. 

"Come here to me, little Letty," she said softly. 

Letty Thorne knelt beside her chair. "I would come 
to you from the farthest ends of the earth," she de- 
clared. "I don't know why you should be so wonder- 
f tdly kind to us," she went on, and her voice was 
touched by. deep emotion. **If only every woman in 
the world was like you, what a different place it would 
be." 

"God forbid." There was sudden tragedy in the 
low exclamation, but Letty continued determinedly: 
"It's difficult to think of you and so many others as 
of the same species. You, who do not even seem to 
know what unkindness means." 

Mrs. Davenant looked suddenly serious, almost sado 

*What! I " she exclaimed. "Oh! but I assure you 

I am often very unkind indeed, but what I called you 

189 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



I90 THE beautiful; MRS. DAVENANT 

for was this." She fastened a single row of pearls 
round Lett/s throat, "To give a string of pretty beads 
to a good little girl. There, child, that is my gift to 
you, upon your engagement becoming known to all 
and sundry.*' 

Letty turned pale. She knew the gift was of great 
value, and she was stricken by an emotion which could 
find no expression in words. She sank down in a 
little heap on the floor, and stared at the beautiful, 
smiling face above her which owed nothing to art. 
The plain black vdvet dress Hilda Davenant wore 
enhanced the purity of her skin, and the lovely throat, 
where the single string of pearls had been, was perfect 
in contour. To a girl, Hilda was an absorbing study. 

"I can't say anything. It's no use trying," Letty 
burst out vehemently. 

"Hilda will be infinitely relieved to hear that," 
laughed Agnes, who was watching the little scene with 
eloquent eyes. 

Mrs. Davenant bent and kissed the girl. "There! 
I've got my thanks," she smiled, rising and moving to 
the window. "Ah! I see Mr. Warburton coming up 
the drive. Let us discuss the thrilling subject of your 
engagement with him. He's so practicsd and sjrm- 
pathetic." 

Sunny, cheery Harry readily fell in with the sugges- 
tion. He was the embodiment of youth. It was im- 
possible to look at him without feeling young again 
oneself. The well-knit, vigorous frame, the dear 
laughing eyes drew people instinctively towards him, 
and made him very attractive. 

"By all means," he agreed, "there's no secret I 
wouldn't tell him, but our secret is now to be made 
public, so let's start with the parson." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S ADVICE 191 

Warburton entered with his usual cheerf uhiess. He 
was master of himself now, when in Agnes Howard's 
presence. He had dictated to himself a fortnight's 
banishment, during which he had worked hard in his 
parish, and turned things over constantly in his mind. 
The vicar knew that the two foes to human happiness 
are pain and boredom, and that the less a man has to 
do the more he will magnify his own troubles. Though 
he longed intensely to see the woman he loved, he held 
resolutely aloof, until he had formulated some plan to 
guide his future procedure. After all, the plan resolved 
itself into letting things slide. Gossip was now rife 
in Great Glentworth, and Warburton, though he stern- 
ly discouraged it in his own house, was often forced to 
listen to it in the houses of others. His sister had told 
him the simple story of Miss Howard's love affair 
in the past, and it had raised his hopes immeasurably. 
Agnes had wished him to be told, and he felt her 
confidence in him augured well for the future. She 
was in any case free to accept or reject his offer, should 
he decide to make it. Meanwhile he resolved to school 
himself to silence, and wait on Fate, and Emily had 
contributed to this determination. She had said, "I 
almost despair of your ever marrying now, Ambrose, 
but Agnes Howard is the type of woman I would 
have loved for a sister-in-law. A woman who would 
be wife to you and friend to me." 

He had replied evasively, and treated her words 
lightly. He saw that she had no suspicion of his 
feelings towards Agnes, and he was giad, because hope 
and fear so constantly alternated in his heart. Though 
he believed there was no impediment against his marry- 
ing Miss Howard, he could not conceive of her ever 
caring for him sufficiently to become his wife. "I 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



192 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

iieill wait as patiently ad I can, and be guided by cir- 
cumstances," be told himself, and straightway re- 
sumed his habit of intimacy with the ladies of Little 
Glentworth. "^ 

"Sitting round the fire as if there was a foot of 
snow on the ground, and with no coal to be got, and 
wood at a premium," he protested with mock horror, 
as he shook hands all round. "It's clearing up out- 
side, and there^s going to be a lovely sunset, and I've 
just heard the music of the hounds in the distance, and 
doubtless the Master will be dropping in for tea." 

"Don't be tiresome," retorted Hilda. "Don't I dil- 
igently gather up the fir cones every day, and the 
Master will be too muddy to turn in. Come and sit 
down, and congratulate Letty and Harry upon their 
engagement." 

The parson laughed. "Oh ! I've done that privately 
ever so long ago, but I'm delighted to do it again in 
public. Bless you both. Long life, and may every joy 
that love can give be yours." 

Letty colored vividly, and murmured her thanks 
inaudibly, but she looked up at him ^nd smiled, and 
he thought her very pretty as she stood there, a tall 
slender creature, with the play of firelight and shadow 
over her delicately cut face and eloquent eyes. Harry, 
looking very big, and proud, and happy, clasped the 
friendly hand extended to him. 

"We would like to tell you how it came about that 
we were so secretive," he said, when they were once 
more seated round the fire. "You see, for no reason 
that we could make out, Lett/s Aunt, Miss Thome, 
objected to our engagement, so we had to meet by 
stealth. Unfortunately I haven't enough money to 
marry on at once, but next year I will have enough. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S ADVICE 193 

You see, sir, the war threw me out, and I had to begin 
all over again, so to speak." 

Warburton nodded, "Yes, I quite see. I know how 
many lads had to sacrifice their professions for the 
sake of their country." 

*'You darling," thought Hilda, as she sat silently 
listening, "how irresistibly attractive his simplicity, 
and his youth, and his good looks are." 

"To-day," went on Harry, "we were surprised down 
by the lake by the sudden appearance of Geoffrey 
Thorpe." 

"Geoffrey Thorpe! Why I thought he never went 
out!" ejaculated Warburton in amazement. 

"No more he does. That's what we calculated 
upon," went on Harry eagerly. "He's never been 
known to go out for years and years, yet there he 
stood, scowling at us by the summer house door " 

"Most disconcerting it must have been," laughed 
Agnes. 

Harry had to laugh too. "It was, I can assure you, 
especially when he also forbade our engagement in 
very harsh language. Letty played up like a brick. 
We both assured him we intended to get married, 
unless the sky fell in, and he went off in a towering 
rage, vowing we'd get nothing from him. Just as if 
we wanted his wretched money," went on Harry with 
fine scorn. "Why, half the beauty of our marriage 
will be that all the time I'll be working like a Trojan 
for Letty. I'm young and strong and I love my 
work." 

^Tfou'U win out all right, my boy. Never fear. 
But how will all this affect Miss Thome's stay at the 
Lake House? Won't it be rather unpleasant for her 
now?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



194 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"Exactly what I feel," chimed in Agnes. "Letty 
had better stay here. In any case we want her and 
Harry to spend Christmas with us." 

Harry was looking anxious. The same thought had 
occurred to him, and. was worrying him more than he 
cared to own, but he brightened up at Miss Howard's 
suggestion. 

"You've both been such angels of goodness to us 
that no new and enchanting proposition sounds in the 
least strange. I'm like my Letty, quite bereft of words 
to express our gratitude," said Harry, with a grave 
earnestness that sat strangely on his merry young 
face. 

Warburton said nothing, but silently watched Agnes 
with a very bright look, grave, yet in a way shining. 
How wonderful, he thought, were those two women, in 
their strangely human interest! It had not been his 
experience to find women of that type so sympathetic 
to young lovers. Certainly the hateful gossip that 
raged around their names was wholly opposed to 
such characteristics, even did it contain a modicum of 
truth. 

"I must go back to the Lake House, no matter what 
sort of reception I get," said Letty thoughtfully. "It 
is possible that uncle may turn me out, in which case 
I would most thankfully avail myself of the shelter 
and welcome offered to me here, but somehow I don't 
think his attitude, on my return, will be different to 
what it has been. If only his behavior towards me 
was my only difficulty, I really wouldn't have much 
to contend with." 

"Ah! then there is something else? Is it an3rthing 
that you can tell us, Miss Thome? Remember what 
warm friends you are amongst." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S ADVICE 195 

The girl's whole expression had suddenly changed. 
The look she threw round the absorbed faces watching 
her was full of fear. Her eyes were arrested as they 
met her lover's puzzled gaze, and he saw entreaty in 
them. 

"Yes, darling. You may say anything here. Much 
better be quite frank, and doubtless we can help you,*' 
he urged gently. 

Letty shook her head emphatically, "Alas! no, 
Harry, no one can help me, and you'll all thihk me 
ridiculously foolish, when you hear that my great 
trouble is the ghost. I have to live with it, and endure 
it constantly. There is some horrible secret connected 
with the Lake House; no one could doubt it after 
living there a week. I can't explain what it is, be- 
cause I don't know, but there is a constant, haunting 
presence which is terrifying." 

No one spoke. Amazement was on every face, 
and Harry stared at the girl with an expression of min- 
gled incredulity, anxiety and blank astonishment. He 
had been totally unprepared for such a disclosure. 
Warburton was the first to speak and break the silence. 
He noted how absolutely in earnest Letty was, and his 
voice was no less serious than her own. 

"Is it something you see?" 

"Ah! thank God, no, not yet. Hearing is' bad 
enough," she answered with a shudder. "Let me tell 
you what it is. I have often longed to tell Harry, but I 
always lacked the courage. Now I feel I must tell some- 
one, or I shall go mad. I am awakened night after 
night by stealthy footsteps creeping along the gallery 
and past my door. Then comes another sound, a cu- 
rious brushing, as of an arm sweeping along the wall 
behind the head of my bed. Sometimes there is also 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



196 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

a clicking sound, as of metal striking metal. The 
footsteps return after a while, pass my door and die 
away down the empty gallery. I sleep in a part of the 
house right away from Uncle and Sarah Greatrex, so 
I can't believe the footsteps are theirs. What could 
either of them want in my wing in the dead of night? 
There are only three of us in the house, and we are all 
in bed by ten o'clock." 

"What lies beyond your bedroom?" asked War- 
burton. 

"Only another wing, closed like several others by 
a cord drawn across, and a notice hung up saying the 
floor is dangerous to walk upon. No one ever enters 
those corridors. One can see the windows from the 
outside, they are all closed and ivy grown, and some 
of the trees have been allowed to throw their branches 
almost on to the roof." 

"Does the sound always come at the same time, and 
every night?" asked the puzzled Harry. Knowing 
more of the Lake House than most people he felt 
utterly at a loss to find an explanation for his sweet- 
heart's weird experiences. 

"I don't hear it every night, but very often. Per- 
haps it comes every night, but doesn't always awaken 
me. I've heard it about midnight, and as late as 
three o'clock in the morning. I've never heard it by 
day, though I've sat in my room sewing for hours in 
titter silence. The footsteps are so soft and stealthy, 
they make me horribly afraid." 

"And you've never mentioned the matter to Mr. 
Thorpe?" asked Warburton. 

"Never. If you knew Uncle you would understand 
why. I spoke to Mrs. Greatrex about the ghost story 
connected with the house, and asked her if she'd ever 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S ADVICE 197 

heard or seen anything. She was very sarcastic and 
disagreeable. 'I've seen nothing worse than myself 
was her only reply." 

"You'll have to confront that ghost, Letty." It 
was Mrs. Davenant who spoke. There was an expres- 
sion of startled excitement on her face, and her voice 
.was sharp and firm. "What you hear is no ghost, but 
a creature of flesh and blood. You must face it 
/tourageously, and lay your very natural fears to 
rest." 

"Mrs. Davenant is right. It is the only thing to 
do," urged Harry. "You needn't fear an ordinary 
human being, darling. It is certainly either Geoffrey 
or Sarah Greatrex, and you know the worst of both," 

Letty was unconvinced, "What could either of them 
be doing there at such an hour?" she argued miserably, 
"and why shouldn't they come by day if they're hu- 
man?" 

"That we can't tell. You know how peculiar Geof- 
frey Thorpe is. I've never known you to lack courage, 
darling; I've seen this very day how you confronted 
your uncle by the lake. Make up your mind to 
throw open your door the next time you hear the 
footsteps, and you may take my word for it you'll 
see nothing worse than Geoffrey Thorpe or Sarah 
Greatrex." 

"Oh! I will try to be courageous enough, but you 
can't think how nerve-racking the mystery is," the 
girl assured him, and there were tears in her voice. 
"There is something ominous and secretive in the 
whole atmosphere of the house. I feel as if it hid 
some awful tragedy." 

"It probably does," thought Warburton, but he 
did not say so. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



198 THE beautiful; MRS, DAVENANT 

"I agree with Mrs. Davenant that the f CK>tsteps are 
human. May I make a suggestion? Take a candle, 
and examine as carefully as you can the flooring of the 
closed corridor which runs beyond your room. Do not 
pass the barrier, but see if you can detect any sign of 
recent footsteps on the flooring. I suppose the cor-* 
ridor isn't carpeted?" 

**No/' answered Letty, "it's black oak, and covered 
with dust" 

"Good: then that makes it all the easier for you. 
I don't say that my suggestion unravels the mystery, 
but if you discover signs of footsteps having passed 
that way, you can be pretty sure they are the human 
footsteps you so often hear. It will give you more 
courage to open your door and confront the owner of 
the footsteps. Possibly Mr. Thorpe is a somnambulist. 
He may be walking in his sleep, in which case it would 
be well to use caution and not awaken him. In any 
case come in and have tea with us to-motrow, and let 
me know what you have discovered by the aid of the 
candle. You may hear nothing to-night, but I want 
to help you all I can. It will surprise me very mudi if 
you do not report distinct marks on the dusty floor of 
that corridor. Compare it with the other corridors 
that are closed, you'll soon see the difference." 

His quiet confidence was infinitely grateful to Lett/s 
nervous fears. Whilst listening to the low, quiet voice 
she felt capable of the most heroic behavior, but she 
knew how different she would feel when away from 
his mental support, and alone in the ghostly, hushed 
atmosphere of the Lake House. However, she gave 
her promise to follow his instructions, and to strive for 
sufficient courage to open her door at the most dreaded 
moment 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S ADVICE 199 

"Say a little pfayer for me," she whispered in War- 
burton's ear as he rose to take his leave, and the warm 
pressure of his handshake, and the answering glance 
of his deep, dark eyes gave assurance that her peti- 
tion would be granted. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XVI 

SAIDIE HALL SEES INTO THE FUTURE 

AS Warburton passed out the M.F.H. and his wife 
were shown in, and Mrs. Davenant with per- 
fectly disguised astonishment rose to receive them. 
Captain Hall often dropped in at all sorts of odd 
hours, in fact, whenever he could frame the flimsiest 
excuse for doing so, but Mrs. Hall paid her calls in a 
more formal manner. 

"We aren't frightfully muddy, and we killed in the 
West Copse after a rattling good run. Now, we've 
come to beg for some tea," she exclaimed. "We've 
sent the hounds and horses home, and ordered the 
car to come for us in half an hour." 

"How delightful of you! We'll have tea imme- 
diately," replied Mrs. Davenant ringing the bell. "Now, 
let me introduce to you Miss Thome of the Lake 
House, and Mr. Harry Thorpe, also of the Lake 
House, but at present domiciled at the White Hart." 

Saidie Hall wheeled round. In the twilight dark- 
ness of the room she had not observed the lovers. 
Now they sprang into prominence as Miss Howard 
switched on the lights. She had heard a great deal of 
country gossip concerning them both, and her vivid 
face betrayed the interest she felt. 

"Very leased to meet you," she said genially, in 
her frank American way, and offering her hand. As 

200 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SAIDIE HALL SEES THE FUTURE 201 

the Master at her elbow followed suit her sharp eyes 
flashed over Letty with quick penetration, and noted 
the pearls at her throat She was instantly aware 
whose property they had been, and her curiosity was 
greatly stirred by the discovery. 

"We always regret that the Lake House is closed. 
Seems such a waste, a fine old place like that," Captain 
Hall was saying. 

"If Letty and I survive Geoffrey Thorpe we will 
do our best to restore it to its former glory, and I 
promise you the doors shall be thrown wide open to 
you all with the heartiest good will." 

Harry's words dropped into a momentary silence 
with startling effect, and Jim Hall instantly grasped 
the situation. 

"By Jove! So that's how the land lies! I'm de- 
lighted. Warmest congrats. Of course I knew you 
were the heir, but you've been such a shy bird I've 
never been able to lay salt on your tail. Best of lucb 
to you. Miss Thome, and may I live to see you reign- 
ing at the Lake House. It needs a touch of youth 
badly. The Old Boy's something of a trial, I fancy. 
What!, eh!" 

In a cross current of cheery questions and answers 
they went into the tea-room, and disposed them- 
selves round the softly lit table. Mrs. Hall, whilst pro- 
ceeding to make a hearty meal, found herself, not for 
the first time, envying the quiet luxuriousness of Little 
Glentworth. Housekeeping seemed to have been 
brought to a fiine art in that establishment, and its 
ordered quiet was in marked contrast to the racket 
always going on at Yerlingham. 

"I envy you your cook, Mrs. Davenant," she ex- 
claimed, helping herself to a couple of foie gras sand- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



202 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

wiches. ''My cook is, alas, a hired assassin, and the 
kitchen girls are minxes. I'm certain the butler's 
a labor leader. I caught him reading the Daily Herald, 
and the footmen are pure Bolsheviks. They've turned 
Yerlingham into a Soviet. Even the Pekinese are 
affected by the revolutionary atmosphere. They're 
the most disobedient little brutes in all the animal king- 
dom." 

"Ahl it's not an easy job to be a good landlord 
now," chimed in her husband. ''Looks as if the kids 
would all be paupers. Every jack one of 'em will 
have to learn a trade. The old country's done, they 
say, but there's still lots of foxes." 

Mrs. Hall had fallen into silence, whilst the Master 
ran on in his serio-comic fashion. The visit paid to 
her by the two Americans had enormously stimulated 
her interest in her present hostess. Gossip, always 
busy with the ladies of Little Glentworth, had not in- 
terested her much, but the few words dropped by 
Griffith and Lycett at the Carlton's dinner table, had 
been enough to confirm her belief that some dark secret 
enveloped the lives of Mrs. Davenant and Miss 
Howard. 

During the drive home from the dinner party she had 
frankly questioned Colonel Lycett, "Did you ever hear 
of Mrs. Davenant in Washington?" and the concise 
answer had been "Never." Major Griffith was equally 
non-committal, but his quiet disclaimer of any knowl- 
edge of the ladies in question had not satisfied the 
nimble wits of Saidie Hall. She saw something sus- 
picious in his extreme reticence. He had known a 
man named Thorpe of the Lake House, in Washing- 
ton, but she dreamed of no connection between the 
defunct scamp and Mrs. Davenant, and did not push 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SAIDIE HALL SEES THE FUTURE 203 

her inquiries further in that direction. The next day 
Lord Lester had come to lunch. He achieved no suc- 
cess with the Americans, but because of this rebuff 
he had been rather more open than he had intended 
with Mrs. Hall. As they strolled round the gardens 
together he did not read to her Bellows' letter, but he 
hinted very broadly at its contents. 

"You can see how greatly attracted Claudie is," 
he had said, in extenuation of his statements. "One 
naturally wishes him to marry a woman unencumbered 
by an unpleasant past. One is not even sure in this 
case of the lady's real name." 

Mrs. Hall had agreed, whilst her mind was busily 
conning over the names of her friends and acquaint- 
ances in Washington, to whom she meant to apply for 
information. She was guiltless of •any mean jealousy, 
and she honestly liked what she saw of Mrs. Davenant, 
but it might, she calculated, be as well to have some- 
thing in reserve, as Claude Carlton was not the only 
man who felt the beauty's strong attractions. Mean- 
while she determined to see more, in future, of the 
lady in question, and she had herself suggested turning 
in to Little Glentworth for tea, when the hounds killed 
on the border of its woods. 

It had been quite a pleasant surprise to find Letty 
Thorne and her lover quite at home in Mrs. Davenant's 
drawing-room. Rumor had already announced their 
engagement, but Saidie had not chanced to set eyes 
on either of them before, and now she liked what she 
saw, and was ready to be on friendly terms. 

"Tell me," she said, in her direct way, "is Mr. 
Thorpe likely to live long?" 

"For the next twenty years," promptly replied 
Harry, whom she had addressed. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



204 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Her face fell, and she threw up her hands. "Oh I 
what a misfortune! I never pretend to wish anything 
but the removal of such wretched lives. I want to see 
you and your fiancee installed as soon as possiUe.'* 

"That's hardly a matter we can arrange," returned 
the amused Harry. "I quite see all the changes I'll 
make in the old place, but I don't count on dead men's 
shoes. Quite conceivably Geoffrey Thorpe may out- 
live me and Letty." 

"He won't. He'll be dead within the next three 
months," she retorted, with a strange, ruminative little 
laugh. 

Something in her manner threw a spell of amazed 
silence upon the little group round the table, and she 
found her curious retort being taken very seriously. 

"Those sort of things often come to me," she added 
quietly. 

"Are you clairvoyante?" asked Miss Howard, 
breaking in on the amazed hush. 

"I believe so," she spoke with a reluctant drawL 
"Impressions come to me, and they are generally right. 
I believe that Geoffrey Thorpe will be in his grave 
before New Year's Day." 

"I'll bet my bottom dollar on that, if Saidie says 
it," declared her husband solemnly. "She's a stunner 
at spotting winners." 

"Tlifen she's a gold mine," said Hilda, who was 
desirous of turning off the conversation on to lighter 
lines. 

Mrs. Hall shook her head. "Alas ! my impres^ons 
won't come at call — ^they just filter in, but when they 
do come in — ^well — ^they come off," she ended with dry 
abruptness. 

All Mrs. Davenant's efforts to alter the trend of 



Digitized by 



Google 



SAIDIE HALL SEES THE FUTURE 205 

thought that swayed Saidie Hall were in vain. The 
American possessed a streak of genuine mystician, 
which had found itself transplanted in very uncon- 
genial soil, but it never really perished, and at odd 
times asserted itself very strongly. Something in the 
atmosphere that evening had roused it into life. Pos- 
sibly, it was Letty Thome's presence, her connection 
with the Lake House and its uncanny traditions. Pos- 
sibly, it was the strong attraction that she at once felt 
for Harry Thorpe, that had caused her to prophesy. 

Whilst striving to give her attention to the Master's 
harmless chatter, Hilda Davenant kept one ear open 
to Harry's "silly expansiveness" as she mentally 
termed it. 

He was rather prone to be taciturn, and non-respon- 
sive where his family was concerned, but now he was 
talking in the most candid manner about the former 
owners of the Lake House property, and Mrs. Hall 
was drinking in every word with absorbed attention. 
"Had my father lived he'd have succeeded before me, 
but he died before Mark Thorpe. Mark went down at 
sea, after a very discreditable career. He had to 
leave this country, and he went to America. There 
he got into more troubles, money and women. He 
was, I've heard, a most plausible adventurer, and he 
had rather a serious affair with a beautiful actress 
called Lambert, or some such name. There was a 
scandal, and he married her, but luckily they had no 
children." 

"It never answers when the lady of the Manor 
springs from the boards," remarked Saidie, "but you 
know women always will run to extremes both in love 
and hate. It doesn't surprise me that a man like Mark 
Thorpe got some woman into his toils; doubtless he 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



206 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

got many, for heaps of us would really love to nm over 
the rim of the world and drop into space, just to 
see what it looks like on the other side. There's noth- 
ing so boring to women as the happy medium." 

When Mrs. Davenant's guests had taken their de- 
parture Agnes Howard turned to her with a gay 
little air of amusement. 

"The country hasn't cut us yet, Hilda. We've 
had quite a number of callers this week." 

Mrs. Davenant did not answer for a moment. She 
sat looking down, one slender hand covering her eyes. 
When she did speak her voice was very grave. 

"I heard Harry telling Mrs. Hall that Mark Thorpe 
had married in Washington an actress .called Lambert, 
and that there were no children to succeed him when 
he died." 

For a moment Agnes looked as grave as her friend, 
then suddenly she smiled again. 

'What of it, my dear? The name Lambert has no 
significance here. Why be anxious about nothing? 
Your fears are groundless. Colonel Lycett would 
never give us away, of that I'm convinced. He has 
left Yerlingham, and the skies haven't fallen." 

Mrs. Davenant rose to leave the room. She gave 
a gesture of weary impatience. 

"Oh! I really don't care one way or the other. 
Don't let us talk of it any more." 

When the door had closed Agnes Howard gave a 
deep sigh, "Yet she does care most awfully, alasl" 
she whispered to herself, "and I know why." 

Mrs. Hall occupied alone the inside of her car, and 
she gave herself up to deep thought as they sped 
homewards. 

"Lambert ! Yes, Tm sure that was the name Lester 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



SAIDIE HALL SEES THE FUTURE 207 

mentioned, and he said Davenant might not really be 
her name. Thorpe married a Washington actress 
called Lambert. He was drowned at sea. At the 
Carltons' dinner Mrs. Davenant owned to having 
been in Washington, and those fine pearls the girl was 
wearing! Who really is that girl? Why does Mrs. 
Davenant take so de6p an interest in her?" 

Such were the questions Saidie Hall turned over and 
over in her mind, but she determined to solve the mys- 
tery alone, and to share her suspicions and conjectures 
with no one. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XVII 

LETTY FACES THE TERROR 

THE night had dosed in dark and humid. The 
Lake House lay dreaming in silence, and as Letty 
Thome stood on the threshold of her open door she 
could hear nothing but the tumultuous beating of her 
own heart. 

Supper was over, and she was free to retire for the 
night. She had found her uncle in no way altered in 
his demeanor towards her. That strange, unexpected 
interview by the lake, which had taken place but a 
few hours ago, might have been a dream. It had not 
changed Geoffrey Thorpe's attitude towards his niece 
in the smallest degree. He had not referred to it even 
indirectly, and they sat together in grim silence, whilst 
they ate their supper of bread and cheese, and the 
tame little mice crept about their feet in search of 
crumbs. 

Perhaps it was only a dream, thought the girl, as 
she let her eyes wander away into the deep, dark 
comers of the room, where the shadows seemed to 
linger even on the sunniest day. As she thought of 
Harry in the snug, brightly lit parlor of the White 
Hart, an intense longing came over her to see his 
adoring glance, to hear his blithe voice. To-morrow 
they would meet again, but at that moment to-morrow 
seemed very far distant. How cheerful it would be 

ao8 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LETTY FACES THE TERROR 209 

at the White Hart, with the sound of hearty, rustic 
voices drifting in from the bar parlor, where all the 
aflFairs of State were debated and settled over the beer 
mugs. Mrs. Frescot, the landlady, would be bustling 
in and out of the best parlor talking to Harry, whilst 
she served his savory supper with her own hands. 
Every one loved Harry, and was in open sympathy 
with his difficulties. To-night he would tell Mrs. 
Prescot their precious secret, and receive her warm 
approval and congratulations, and she wotdd hurry 
away to the bar parlor with the glad tidings. There 
would be many drinkings to health and happiness, 
and probaMy farmers' deputations would find their 
way to Hanys quarters, and there would be hearty 
hand-shakings and more congratulations, and doubt- 
less a very convivial evening would follow. 

Letty turned her thoughts and eyes back to the 
actual scene before her. To the haggard figure of 
the old man, who sat in his accustomed seat with his 
back turned to that aggressive portrait on the wall. 
How unhappy he looked! how uneasy and harassed, 
how ill ! How his clawlike hand shook, as it raised the 
battered silver tankard to his shriveled, trembling 
lips ! The prophetic words uttered that afternoon by 
Mrs. Hall came back to Letty with a rush. Strange 
words to be uttered by such a woman. What did they 
really mean? What significance had they? Could 
any one really foretell the death of another? Surely 
such events were in the hands of God I Were they, 
fated, or did they come by chance? 

Suddenly Geoffrey Thorpe jerked round his haggard 
head, with that wild, fearsome glance over his shoul- 
der. The action had become habitual to him. What 
did it mean? What, at first, had given rise to it? 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2IO THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Letty forced herself to look critically at the por- 
trait of Mark Thorpe, the man who had been lost at 
sea. For an instant, as the painted eyes met her own, 
there was something so sinister and menacing in their 
glance that she shuddered. 

What a handsome striking face it was, but what a 
hateful one! A careless, devil-me-care expression 
dominated the upper part; the lower, though finely 
modeled, was marred by cruel, contemptuous, sneer- 
ing lines. Why did Geoffrey Thorpe permit the por- 
trait to hang there, when it so obviously tortured his 
mind, and gave him no peace or respite by day or 
night? The huge log fire had burned low, and the 
heaps of glowing faggots shed a weird light on the 
portrait, whilst the high-backed chairs and carved 
dower chests cast strange, uncouth shadows all around. 
Letty started as a half-burned log fell with a crash 
upon the hearth, and then came the beat of rain upon 
the casement, and the moan of a rising wind through 
the trees. 

The evening wore away. Letty had gone to her 
own room, and the clock over the empty stables had 
long since struck nine. She stirred the glowing embers 
of the fire into a blaze, for her night's work was only 
about to begin. She calculated that her uncle and 
Mrs. Greatrex must both have retired to their rooms, 
and it would now be safe to commence investigations. 

As she stood with palpitating heart on the threshold 
of her open door, shading the guttering candle with her 
hand, the silence was so intense that it weighed like a 
pall upon her. 

On noiseless footfall she crept towards the corridor, 
which ran along the wing beyond her room. As she 
reached it the black oak boards gave back a hollow 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LETTY FACES THE TERROR 211 

echo to her tread, but she hurried softly on until she 
reached the cord that was stretched across its mouth. 

She stooped low down and held out the candle, 
throwing its flickering beams on to the floor. 

Yes! Warburton was right! She could distinctly 
trace footsteps on the thick layer of gray dust. Large, 
untidy footprints, such as might have been made by 
Geoffrey Thorpe's loose, slippered tread. She straight- 
ened herself again and listened intently. Not a sound! 
She peered down the black tunnel in front of her. Its 
end was swallowed up in impenetrable darkness. What 
lay beyond? She could not tell what those closed 
rooms contained, or upon what errand went those 
slippered feet. All was mystery still, but she had seen 
enough to convince her that a human being did pass 
along that corridor, despite the warning that it was 
unsafe for human feet. 

Very cautiously she retraced her way, and, regaining 
her room, she closed the door, and sat down by the fire 
to think. She had carried out the first half of her al- 
lotted task, the easier half, but as Warburton had as- 
sured her would be the case, the discovery she had 
made had robbed the rest of its greatest terrors. Those 
footprints in the dust were undoubtedly human. 
Ghosts, if such entities did exist, left no visible trace 
of their passage. She felt that it would no longer re- 
quire superhuman courage, on hearing the approach of 
that stealthy tread, to throw open her door, and ascer- 
tain beyond a shadow of doubt who walked the night 
on so secret an errand. Her courage rose consid- 
erably, and though her surroundings were so gloomy, 
and so utterly solitary, and her long brooding over the 
mystery had weakened her nerves, she decided to carry 
out the advice given her by Harry and Warburton. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



312 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

She undressed and prepared as if for bed, and wrap- 
ping herself in a warm dressing-gown, she took up 
a book and resigned herself to sit up till daybreak, 
if necessary. 

Certainly, nothing is more trying to the nervous 
system than awaiting a dreaded uncertainty. More 
especially is this the case if the ordeal has to be endured 
in the dead of night. 

In Letty's case the conditions were rendered even 
more unpleasant than usual by reason of their setting. 
The dilapidated old house, which the most material 
person would have described as ghostly, the peculiar 
mode of life of its occupants, and the profound and 
desolating atmosphere of mystery they created, all 
weighed powerfully against sane and rational reason- 
ing. 

Letty Thome was eminently practical in ordinary 
life, but she possessed the vivid imaginaticm of the 
artistic temperament, and that imagination had been 
over-developed and unbalanced during the last three 
months of her residence in the Lake House. 

As she sat by her fire, striving to fix her mind on 
her book, yet with every sense strung to acutest tension, 
she counted the slow hours up to the second hour of 
the new day, as they were tolled off by the stable clock, 
and the church tower in the distance. Again she mend- 
ed the fire till it blazed and crackled on the hearth, till 
it flashed on the somber draperies of the canopied bed, 
and lit up the high mantelpiece with its intricate carv- 
ings, and the raftered ceiling with its ponderous oaken 
beams. 

She strove to fix her thoughts on Harry, and as his 
face rose before her she longed to lay her head on his 
breast and whisper to him. If she could but leave this 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LETTY FACES THE TERROR 213' 

silent lonely room, and run through the darkness to 
him. The vague dread was stealing over her again, 
despite all her efforts. A cold chill crept through the 
room. The dread grew, and her book fell from her 
knee to the floor, with a dull, heavy sound. 

Her head had begun to feel hot and tired, and her 
eyes too heavily weighted with sleep to remain open, 
and she moved to her window and very softly threw it 
wide. The night was intensely still. Not a breath 
stirred the moisture laden, bare branches of the 
trees. The sky was draped in heavy clouds, not a star 
shone betwixt their slowly drifting masses. 

Suddenly, there broke out a dismal howl from the 
house-dog in his kennel in the yard, and Letty drew in 
her head hastily. The sensation of icy chiU that in- 
vaded her came not from the dampness of the atmos- 
phere. It was the result of another sound, faint 
enough, as yet, but still clearly audible to her trained 
ear — ^the approach of those footsteps she so dreaded. 

The vague panic was creeping over her again. Ah ! 
to be out of that grim and silent room, to be with 
Harry, to have done with the Lake House and its eerie 
secrets forever. The fire was dying down; it was 
surely much darker. 

She stood up stiffly by the window, every nerve 
on the rack, every musde taut, her head turned to- 
wards the door. Her pulses throbbed wildly, her very 
blood seemed to run ice, but she stood there quietly 
waiting, and mentally repeating to herself the words, 
^'Harry shall not find me a coward." 

There are moments in life when every power of the 
mind is unnaturally strained, and when thoughts hith- 
erto undreamed of are formed in one short instant 
Letty knew what she had to do, but though she was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



214 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

, resolute to do it she still lacked the physical courage. 
She had a curious sensation that her feet refused to 
I move. 

The stealthy footsteps neared her door, they passed 
it and went onward towards the barred corridor. In 
] another second or two she had lost trace of them. 

Inertia dropped from her suddenly, and the thought 
of Warburton, praying that courage might be given to 
her, sprang like a flaming sword through her mind. 
'The steps would return again. 

! Deliberately she walked to the door and waited, her 
hand upon the knob, ready to turn it instantly. Now, 
jher straining ears caught another faint sound, the 
'cautious closing of a distant door. A little longer, and 
she could hear the footsteps creeping back again. Sud- 
jdenly, all fear fell from her, and was replaced by an 
irresistible desire to learn the truth, to know the worst 
'The footsteps were creeping closer — ^now she knew 
they were about to pass. With a mixture of dread and 
desperation she threw wide the door. 

She stood face to face with Geoffrey Thorpe. 

In that wild first moment the two pairs of eyes held 
each other in a stem conflict of tenacity. Thorpe was 
the first to break the spell, with a scared glance over 
his shoulder. The next moment a large key hanging 
in his finger, clanked against the brass candlestick he 
carried. 

! "What's this ?" he exclaimed harshly. "Why aren't 
I you in bed and asleep?" 

"I was frightened," she faltered tremulously. 

"Frightened! What frightened you?" he scoffed, 
throwing the light on her face and scanning it closely. 
' "Footsteps. I couldn't think what they meant, at 
'such an hour." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



LETTY FACES THE TERROR 215 

"And what business is it of yours to inquire? Whose 
footsteps would they be, but those of the master of 
this house? Understand, I won't have any sp)ring 
here, and I detest spies. Surely I am at liberty to walk 
about my own house when and where I please." 

"But the howling of the dog startled me. I was 
reading, not sleeping. I'm sorry," she faltered, almost 
in tears from the violent reaction overtaking her. 

She saw him shrink back, and his pale face grew 
whiter. 

"The dog shan't keep you awake again, and I allow 
no reading in bed. You'll burn the house down about 
our ears. Where do you get so many candles ?" 

"I buy them in the village," she confessed truth- 
fully, "but I promise not to do it again. Uncle." 

"Good girl ! That's the proper spirit," he answered 
more genially, "and in future trust me to keep guard 
over the security of the house. I often stroll round, 
just to see that all's right. Good-night." 

He nodded briefly and moved away, and she retired 
into her room and closed the door. 

She knew that his last words were false. She de- 
tected instantly that he had uttered them as ah after 
thought, and that his nocturnal prowlings had nothing 
whatever to do with the safety of the house. He had 
offered no real explanation of his errand at so strange 
an hour. She had not expected that he would, yet she 
felt no relief at finding that the ghost had flesh and 
bones, and that it was a mortal hand which swept so 
often over the wall behind her bed. She was more 
convinced now than ever before that some deep mys- 
tery was attached to the house, and she acknowledged 
to herself that she had not yet begun to solve it. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XVIII 

MURDER 

IT was early in December, and the weather had 
turned bitterly cold. True, the sun shone by day 
and made walking a delight, but several degrees of 
frost spell-bound each night, and coated the bare woods 
and hedges in a radiant veil of sparkling silver. 

Agnes Howard had suggested ten days in London, 
but Mrs. Davenant had rejected the proposal. 

"I haven't the least inclination to go to town,*' she 
had retorted rather crossly. 

"Then why not let us invite a cheery party to come 
here?" urged Agnes. "We always intended to have 
some house parties, and we've had none. We seem to 
have settled down into an utterly humdrum existence. 
Soon, we'll find ourselves attending all the Mothers' 
Meetings and tending our own cabbages." 

"Have any one you like, Agnes, but not on my 
account. I'm perfectly satisfied with the lives we lead, 
and thankful for the rest," was the quiet retort. 

Miss Howard had suggested a change as a means of 
cheering up her ccHnpanion. Hilda had developed a 
curious moodiness, and took long walks alone, by pref- 
erence. She seemed to be plunged in constant thought, 
and her spirits had lost their bright resilience and 
sparkle. Agnes could not decide what ailed her. Was 
it that she missed Claude Carlton's frequent visits and 

3l6 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 217 

obvious admiration, or was it something secret and 
undisclosed that weighed upon her mind? Miss How- 
ard was inclined toward the latter interpretation. 
Major Carlton had written several times to Mrs. Dave- 
nant, a regular correspondence seemed to have sprung 
up between them, and his return had been announced 
by his mother as being due in about ten days' time. 
Already Mrs. Carlton was planning a big Christmas 
dinner party, and a dance to follow. There would 
be a cheery house party, and possibly skating. It 
looked like a hard winter. 

This bright prospect ought to have raised Hilda's 
spirits, in place of depressing them, but there was no 
change perceptible. In vain did tfie devoted Agnes 
seek to probe the mysterious cause of Hilda's depres- 
sion. The only reply, on putting a plain question, was 
"No, I've nothing more on my mind than usual, but 
recollect that I always carry with me a heavy weight." 

"It has hardly affected you in the past ; why should 
it do so now? You are looking pale and fagged," 
urged Agnes. "I suppose you won't like my saying 
so, but I sometimes regret bitterly that we ever came 
here. We should have steered clear of the Lake House 
and its ill-omened traditions, instead of settling down 
at its very gates. I believe its proximity depresses 
you, even though it has turned out that there is no 
ghost, and you have discovered Letty Thome." 

Mrs. Davenant seemed to ponder these words, and 
Agnes, who was watching her closely, saw her color 
deepen, then fade. Looking up she met the gaze of 
her friend and said quietly — 

"I'm glad — ^very glad we did come here. I have 
foimd Letty, but I feel very often, and very strongly, 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2i8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

that we were sent here. I mean that a power other 
than our own directed us, and that there is a purpose 
in our living at Little Glentworth.*' 

'*What sort of purpose?" persisted Agnes. She ex- 
pected that the answer to her question would have some 
connection with Carlton, and Hilda's avowed liking 
for him, but she was mistaken. 

"I believe — I feel a very strong conviction that the 
Lake House will solve the problem of my life, and the 
terrible uncertainty of years," was Hilda's quiet re- 
ply. 

"I don't understand! How could it?" demanded 
the perplexed Agnes. 

'l don't know. I only tell you what I fed. I've noth- 
ing to go on." 

Harry had returned to London with the happy 
prospect of a Christmas holiday at Little Glentworth, 
but there had been long discussions between the two 
ladies, Letty and Warburton, upon the Lake House 
mystery. Agnes and the parson, on hearing that, as 
he supposed, the ghost was none other than Geoffrey 
Thorpe, had inclined to the belief that there was noth- 
ing more to learn, and that the so-called mystery did 
not exist. After all, there was nothing very unusual 
in the behavior of the old man. Every one knew how 
eccentric he was, and rambling about his own house 
in the dead of night was a perfectly legitimate amuse^ 
ment. 

"Why shouldn't he?" argued Warburton. "Prob- 
ably he sleeps badly. Probably he's full of suspicious 
fears and dread of burglars. A common enough con- 
dition of mind in those who lead secluded lives. In 
any case it is indisputable that he has a perfect right 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 219 

to please himself, and as his nocturnal rambles no 
longer alarm you, why worry any more ?" 

Letty listened respectfully to those logical remarks, 
but remained quite unshaken by them. 

"I don't worry. After all it isn't my affair,'' she 
said, "and when I hear the footsteps I no longer feel 
afraid, and often they don't even awaken me, but I'm 
more than ever convinced that there is a mystery. 
Though I no longer expect to see a ghost I can't help 
feeling a deep dread of the whole place. It is weighed 
down by some horrible secret. The whole atmosphere 
is impregnated with mystery. No one could live under 
that roof and fail to sense it. Something sinister is 
concealed there. What, I don't know. I can't even 
imagine." 

"It can be no human being. Such things happened 
perhaps in a less enlightened past. They couldn't hap- 
pen now, they would be discovered," argued Warbur- 
ton, with conviction. "I discussed \^ith Harry the 
possibility of some one being hidden, or kept prisoner 
in the Lake House. He agreed with me that such a 
presumption was quite untenable. Recluse, as Mr. 
Thorpe undoubtedly is, certain people do approach and 
often enter his house. Mrs. Greatrex lives there, the 
gardener is in and out, and has been about the place 
for years. The tradesmen and postman come to the 
door. There are old retainers still on the property. 
Repairs must sometimes be executed, or the roof would 
faU in." 

Agnes Howard warmly emphasized those conten- 
tions, but Letty remained obviously unconvinced, and 
apparently Hilda Davenant took Letty's view. She 
listened very quietly to all the arguments, but took no 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



220 THE BEAUTIFUr MRS. DAVENANT 

part in them, nor did she once express agreement with 
Warburton and Agnes. She also was unconvinced. 

The short winter day was closing, as she sank down 
with a tired little sigh on the seat of the old summer- 
house by the lake. 

The air had a sharp nip in it, and the deepening 
orange which suffused tiie western sky, and spread into 
a vast crimson canopy in the upper heavens, warned 
her that the day was done. She had no fear of being 
surprised in that deserted spot, sacred only to the love- 
making of Harry and Letty. The girl never came 
there alone, and it was too cold for the old man to be 
out. He had left the house but once that year, when he 
had surprised the lovers. The trysting-place was now 
abandoned to wild nature, but it had a singular attrac- 
tion for Hilda Davenant. Her thoughts flew freely 
there, and the utter solitude was restful to a woman 
who had spent all her life in public, and was rarely 
off guard. For some time now, she had been obsessed 
by the conviction that the one great difiiculty in her 
life would find its solution there. She made no at- 
tempt to speculate as to how this would come about. 
That was a secret held by her other self, the self that 
gave rise to the conviction, and had a wisdom of its 
own. She was content to drift, to wait patiently on 
Fate, and surrender herself to that imperious urge 
which drove her so often to the gloomy fringe of the 
lake. 

Often she had asked herself the question, "What 
draws me here? What is the shadow that has crossed 
my path, and darkened once more my future outlook? 
I had begun to forget, now I am again enveloped in 
the shadow of the past." Instinctively she felt that 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 221 

it was a shadow. Could it be the same shadow that 
darkened Letty's life at the Lake House, and which 
caused her to long for the moment when she could 
leave it? Was this same shadow operating upon her 
in an exactly contrary degree? It came to her that 
imagination was floating farther and farther away, 
with her yearnings and desires, in a wind of dreams. 
To what port was she being wafted? Was it to a 
land of shades and still deeper resignation, or to a 
harbor of sunshine, where dreams of joy would find 
their fruition? 

The sun had finished his short circuit, and had left 
tL crimson trail of glory behind him in the frosty sky. 
Against the northern horizon were piled up great gray 
masses of cloud, tinged with carmine and gold. The 
wooded heights surrounding the lake were transformed 
into a fairy forest of hoar-frosted boughs and stark 
leaves. King Winter reigned supreme, and had si- 
lenced the merry chatter of the little brooks, and 
draped the brown fern fronds and overhanging fo- 
liage in silver, a miracle of fantastic and delicate 
tracery. 

The lake was covered by a thin film of ice, save 
where deep springs welled up from its depths. Its 
surface reflected lovely lights, opal tints of carmine, 
gold, steely blue and deep rose, and Mrs. Davenant 
watched them slowly fading into the colder, purer ra- 
diance of a full moon, now climbing above the woods, 
whilst the zenith was still rosy and gold. 

She was about to tear herself away from the silent 
enchantment, and retrace her steps homewards, when 
the deep peace was broken by a startled blackbird, 
messenger of storms, darting wildly out from its roost- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



222 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

ing place. It flew screaming across the lake, and dis- 
appeared into the black shadows beyond. 

She stood up just within the entrance of her shelter, 
and listened intently. Her heart began to beat, and 
a thrill of violent excitement flashed through her. 
There was not a sound! Yet, surely now she could 
hear something in the dim distance. A soimd like the 
sharp crack of broken twigs and branches. Again, 
another sound, muffled, yet drawing nearer. The 
rapid padding of feet — ^unshod, or lightly slippered 
feet. 

Hilda held her breath, and drew back within the 
doorway. Instinctively she turned to a wide crack in 
the rotten wood, through which she could see, without 
being seen. Her eyes sought the twisting woodland 
path to the left, from whence the sound came. It was 
the Ghost's Walk, and led eventually to the house, 
about a quarter of a mile away. 

The moon was rising higher now, and was shining 
almost vertically down upon the lake. It illumined 
the scene with a clear cold radiance, throwing light and 
shadow into sharpest relief. 

The running, padded footsteps drew nearer, surely 
another moment and their owner would round the bend 
and appear in view. Fleet though they were, they 
suggested weariness. There was a decided limp in 
their action. 

A deadly terror of she knew not what shook Hilda 
Davenant like a withered leaf assailed by autumn 
winds. The runner tore round the bend, coming on as 
if flying for dear life. Now the fugitive was in full 
view, and revealed as a man, or rather the ghost of 
what had once been a man. He was very tall, and 
strongly built, but worn to a shadow, and apparently 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 223 

fagged out. Still he held on his way. Now, he had 
passed out of Mrs. Davenant's range of view, and 
barely conscious of her actions, she crept nearer the 
entrance and peered out as he approached. 

He was quite close to her now, and as she stood 
transfixed, staring towards him, every drop of blood 
left her face, which became rigid with horror. One 
arm swung free as he ran, on his other side hung an 
empty sleeve. His face was gray, haggard and cov- 
ered by a mat of unkempt black hair. His clothes hung 
in rags about his gaunt frame, and on his feet were tat- 
tered stockings. 

She stood as if frozen to the ground, dizzy from 
unadulterated fear. Then the film gathering over her 
eyes cleared, the nightmare spasm clutching at her 
breath loosed its hold, at the violence of overwhelming 
shock. 

The flying figure had stopped short, and for one 
long moment the wild, dark eyes, charged with an ex- 
pression that curdled her blood, met hers in full recog- 
nition. 

At that awful gaze the beating of her heart ceased. 
Surely the earth stood still too, surely the moon paused 
in her mounting ! Then before she could call back her 
senses, before a word was spoken, he was off again. 

She staggered back to the seat, and cowered into 
its black shadows. Had he recognized her? Yes! 
undoubtedly. She could tell it by that hideous stare 
of amazed loathing. She had changed hardly at 
all, since last they met twelve years ago. She had 
recognized him instantly, yet he had changed enor- 
mously. 

She threw her hands before her face. More in 
thought is suffered in eventful moments than in years 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



224 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

of tranquillity. Yet, such lightning flashes of time 
color whole lives, and turn the tide of desti- 
nies. 

Only about thirty seconds had elapsed. Terror leapt 
alive once more. The running feet were returning, and 
she strangled the. scream, that rose in her throat, and 
hid the whiteness of her face, while she shrank far- 
ther into the shadows, which engulfed her so com- 
pletely that it seemed as if she herself were but a 
shadow absorbed and lost in deeper shadows. He was 
returning to kill her. 

For a second it flashed across her that the tread 
was not the same. Another fugitive was passing, but 
the blood throbbed in her brain, the roar of the sea 
sounded in her ears. She could not reason, or be sure 
of anything. 

The momentary terror had passed so swiftly it was 
like an illusion of the senses, leaving her stunned with 
nightmare thoughts. Yet she knew it was no night- 
mare she was passing through. Stark reality had to be 
faced. Nothing could soften or avert it. This was the 
hour she had awaited, and instinctively she had known 
that from it there was no escape. The veil which hid 
the ominous shadow had been torn aside, it was real 
flesh and blood. This had been the destiny mapped 
out for her. She felt nothing now but a dreary desire 
to die, for she had rushed upon her fate in its most 
humiliating aspect. 

Again acute terror rushed back. The silence was 
broken. She listened intently. Was he returning? 
How could she escape? for he had gone by the road 
she had to traverse, and she was compelled to 
hide in her dark shelter till he had gone dear 
away. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 225 

She bent her head forward, and strained her ears 
in an agony of apprehension. Yes I There was some- 
thing moving at the other end of the little lake. Again 
came the shrill scream of startled birds, a hare sped 
swiftly past the door. Though she could see nothing, 
because of a bend in the path and the tangled foliage, 
she could clearly distinguish the brittle noise of crack- 
ing ice, a heavy splash of water, and a low, discordant 
medley of sound, confused and intermittent, rising, 
falling. 

"It sounds like a dog fight in the distance," she 
thought, shudderingly. She dared not move from her 
hiding place. Yes, he was still there. What was he 
doing? What were those sinister confused sounds? 
Would he come back? The terror of his return over- 
powered all other thoughts, all clear reasoning. If he 
did return he would surely kill her. Of that alone 
was she certain. 

Hours seemed to pass, dragging interminably. The 
strange sounds had died out, and a blessed period of 
deep silence reigned once again. In reality but ten 
minutes had slipped by, and she was about to steal 
forth to reconnoiter, when she became aware, for a 
certainty, that some one was approaching. The foot- 
steps were assuredly not his. 

She clutched at the door posts for support. A 
weight was on her head, and all her numbed limbs. 
She was no longer quite certain of anything. 

The steps were dragging and slow, the halting steps 
of a very old, unshod man, and peering out she saw 
gradually emerge from the black shadows, not that tall 
gaunt fugitive, with the wild dark stare of recognition, 
but an aged man with down drooped head, leaden limbs 
and spiritless air. The moonlight fell full upon him 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



226 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

now, and enveloped him in glittering raiment, for as 
he came closer she saw, that from head to foot he 
streamed with water. 

"Geoffrey Thorpe!" 

She was certain of the identity of the man she 
suddenly faced. Clarity rushed over her. She moved 
from the shadows and barred his path. 

"What have you done with Mark Thorpe?" she de- 
manded. 

He was standing as if rooted, like the stark trees 
around him. The day of judgment had dawned. That 
imperious question came from an archangel's trump, 
calling him to his just doom. He raised his haggard 
eyes, and looked straight into her face, a pale, beauti- 
ful accusing face, and she noted on his a quivering, 
deadly pallor. There was neither tragedy nor pathos 
in his gaze, only pity, which trembled in his voice like 
a condemned soul brought to justice. 

"I have killed him," he replied, with dull leaden 
brevity. 

"You have drowned him in the lake?" 

He looked again at her darkly. "He is drowned 
in the lake. A one-armed man cannot swim, but I 
never meant to kill him. We fought near the edge, 
we slipped on the frozen ground as we grappled. We 
both fell in, and he clutched, with his one hand at my 
foot as we sank together. I struck away his hand with 
a desperate effort. I would have saved him, but I was 
choking. He sank again. What matters? I too am a 
dead man." 

His voice was dead and expressionless. His face, 
white as a corpse against the black shadows, was de- 
void of feeling. He moved slowly, silently and pain- 
fully on, without another word or gesture. He wore 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MURDER 227 

no shoes, only torn stockings. She watched him as his 
spectral form was swallowed up in the darkness of the 
woodland path. 

For a long moment she stood still, then she looked 
down upon the frozen ground. A little pool of 
water had gathered, where a moment before he had 
stood. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XIX 

THE ESCAPE 

TOWARDS the close of the wintry day the roWns 
hopped about the Ghost's Walk, and ate the 
crumbs Letty threw to them. It was her consolation 
and delight to make friends with all wild life, and 
even the savagery of "Steve," the chained watch-dog, 
had succumbed to her gentle blandishments, and 
watched for her coming morning and evening with the 
scraps she contrived to save for him at dish-washing 
time. 

The frosty afternoon was far advanced, and she 
had lingered out of doors as long as possible, watching 
the glory of the sunset, but now her attention was 
distracted from the sky and the birds by the sudden 
furious barking of the dog. 

"Some strangers must be about," she concluded, 
and scattering her last crumbs she struck off by a nar- 
row path through the copse on her left. Mrs Greatrex 
had gone to the village, and would certainly not be back 
for another hour, and Geoffrey Thorpe was in his 
room at the other side of the house, absorbed in his 
usual occupation, whatever that might be. Letty had 
often wondered, but never discovered what kept him 
so busy. There was no one but herself to open the 
door, or to warn off stray tramps, and she hurried to- 

228 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE ESCAPE 229 

wards the yard and back entrance, where "Steve" was 
chained to his kennel. 

Suddenly, a most unusual sound caused her to stand 
still and listen. It came from the fringe of the dense 
wood which had grown up to the sides of one of the 
disused wings, and it suggested a piece of iron falling 
heavily from a height to the ground. 

She strove to peer through the thick undergrowth, 
but it was too dense either to see through or walk 
through, and as she moved hastily on other strange 
sounds fell distinctly on her ear, and caused her to 
quicken her pace considerably. Some one was moving 
in the copse. She could clearly distinguish movement 
in a great tree overlapping the roof. There was a loud 
noise of cracking, breaking branches, succeeded by a 
heavy thud, as of a body dropping from a high tree to 
the earth. 

Then, as she paused once more with a sudden thrill 
of alarm, there came to her the tread of stealthy feet 
creeping through the brushwood, and more cracking 
of branches. 

The violent barking of "Steve" and the rattling of 
his straining chain increased her conviction that some 
intruder was about, yet for the moment she was more 
puzzled and vaguely curious than actually afraid. 

Her residence at the Lake House had prepared her 
for surprises, she had always felt that anything might 
happen under that roof, but the coming of burglars 
whilst it was still daylight seemed an extremely un- 
likely contingency. Yet, what else could such sounds 
indicate? she argued with herself, as she hurried into 
the yard. Throwing the scraps to "Steve" who was 
violently excited, she entered by the back entrance, and 
made her way to the living room on the other side of 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



230 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

the house. For the first time she ran with natural 
vigor along the corridors, and without fear of disturb- 
ing the old man. Unceremoniously throwing open the 
door she ran in, crying out — 

"There is some one in the copse f I heard him drop 
from a tree outside the left wing. Then I heard creep- 
ing, stealthy footsteps." 

The effect of her announcement was electrical. 
Again she felt a sharp twinge of fear mingle with her 
excitement. The ashy terror on her uncle's face, as 
he started up from his seat and dashed wildly past 
her, set her heart beating, and her unstrung nerves 
quivering with nameless dread. She made a sudden 
movement to arrest him, but too late. 

"Stay where you are,*' he shouted, "disobey me at 
your peril." 

Before her feeble protest could reach his ears he 
was out of sight. 

For a moment she stood still, feeling sick with ap- 
prehension and acute uncertainty, then she rallied her 
courage, and running into another room on the other 
side of the house, which commanded a view of the 
Ghost's Walk, she threw open the casement, and thrust 
out her head as far as she dared. 

The footsteps were clear enough now. She could 
distinguish her uncle's tread; wonderfully swift, yet 
hampered by his loose slippers. How terribly eager 
he seemed! Terror lent him strength and agility. 
There was more cracking of boughs and undergrowth, 
as the feet of the intruder, no longer stealthy, rushed 
on. Suddenly, i^ a small clearing she caught a fleeting 
glimpse of two figures. One tall and gaunt, the other 
was Goffrey Thorpe in hot pursuit. Another second 
and both were lost to view. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE ESCAPE 231 

Dead silence fell again upon the scene. Steve had 
ceased to bark. The sunset had faded out, and a full 
moon was rising behind the woods. The air was in- 
tensely cold. A hard frost had set in. She closed the 
window, and suddenly remembered that she was quite 
alone in the house. She began to reckon how long it 
would be before Mrs. Greatrex returned. Certainly 
not under another hour. She had started late, calculat- 
ing on the moon to light her home. She never went 
out during the daytime. 

There was nothing apparently to be done but wait 
patiently for Geoffrey Thorpe's return, and Letty de- 
cided to go to the kitchen and spend the interval there. 
The front part of the house was always kept closed in 
winter, and he could only re-enter by the back door. 

She raked the embers together, and piled wood and 
coal in the yawning grate. Soon there was a cheerful 
blaze, and after lighting the lamp she drew a chair to 
the fire and sat down to think. 

Who was the man in the copse, and what did he 
want there? Who had fallen from the tree, and why 
had he climbed it? Would Geoffrey Thorpe overtake 
him? If he did what would happen? What a bitter 
night for the old man to be out, and how mad he was 
to run after a stranger who, for all he knew, might be 
armed and desperate ! She wished she had not al- 
lowed her excitement to control her. Perhaps it would 
have been better to say nothing, yet surely it was her 
duty to warn her uncle that an intruder was seeking 
entrance. Still, if she had broken the fact more gently 
to him perhaps he would have thought twice before 
rushing forth into the wintry night, without hat and 
overcoat, and with feet shod only in thin slippers. A 
strong inclination possessed her to go out and look 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



232 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

for him, but she remembered that he had forbidden 
her in most emphatic language to follow him 

No, there was nothing that she could do but wait, 
and occupy her mind with niany conjectures. Yet, 
she was desperately uneasy. Her nerves were strung 
up to acute tension by the strange events of the last 
hour, and she was consumed with a desire to prevent 
her thoughts from dwelling on that old shadowy fear 
which lurked in the dark corners of the kitchen. Now 
there was another dread to be fought, a terrible fore- 
boding of some coming evil. 

From time to time she stirred the fire noisily, and 
looked over her shoulder at the shadows, and started 
violently as a half-burned log crashed on to the hearth. 
The minutes dragged on, and the ticking of the clock 
grew painfully loud. Why did not Geoffrey Thorpe 
return? What was happening in the Ghost's Walk? 
What would be the effect on the old man of this wild 
adventure? Was he lying, even at that moment, mur- 
dered — ^amid the dense brushwood of the copse? 

The moon was well above the woods now, and fell 
in splashes across the great stone flags of the floor, 
and touched with silver fingers the rusty articles ranged 
on the walls and dresser. The clock burst into a loud 
whirr and struck. She did not wish to count the slow, 
emphatic strokes, but she did so mechanically. For 
how long had she been alone in the house ? She hardly 
knew. Perhaps an hour, and her uncle had not re- 
turned. 

She glanced round at the uncurtained window and 
her heart stopped, then bounded on again. A man's 
face was pressed close to it, peering in on her. She 
did not start or cry, though her very blood was chilled, 
she stood up calmly and quietly. Suddenly the face 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE ESCAPE 233 

vanished, but not before she had distinguished its own- 
er — Geoffrey Thorpe. 

Why did he not enter? A sound at the back door, 
and she wheeled round and waited. Dragging, slow 
footsteps in the flagged passage, then the door was 
feebly pushed open and he entered. Mechanically she 
noticed that he had lost his slippers, and that as he 
crept forward to the fire a path of water followed him. 
Every garment he wore was drenched through and 
through, but her thoughts were concentrated on the 
ashy pallor of his face, and the terror still alive upon 
it. 

"I must change at once," he muttered thickly, 
through his chattering teeth. "Go and fetch me brandy 
from the cupboard and dry clothes; and I need you. 
My hands are helpless." 

Letty, who had trembled at the mere falling of a 
log, was instantly steadfast, practical and full of re- 
source. What a blessed relief to be in action once 
more! 

"You're wet through, uncle, much wiser to go to 
bed immediately. I'll fetch the brandy now." 

She was answered by a deep groan, and he clutched 
wildly at her for support. 

"What is it?" she asked gently, as with her arms 
firmly round him she drew him to a chair. "Are you 
hurt?" His answer, as he sank back was almost inau- 
dible, so violently did he chatter and tremble. 

"No! Yes! I've been bruised and strained my 
hands. I'm a dead man. Fetch brandy and help me 
upstairs. Keep her away from me ! Ah !" His voice 
rose to a quivering shriek, as he stared wildly at thcf 
pool of water gathering about his feet. "She'll see 
that and guess." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



234 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"No, she won't. FU wipe it up. Wait tiU I fetch 
the brandy." 

In a moment or two more Letty returned, and with 
the greatest difficulty he took a few sips of the stimu- 
lant. His hands, scratched and torn, tremWed so 
greatly that he could not hold the glass, and she was 
obliged to put it to his lips. 

Then she gently assisted him to rise. **You must 
let me send for the doctor,'' she suggested, as they 
moved slowly to the door. 

Her words roused in him a fierce strength. He 
broke away from her, staggering dangerously. 

"I forbid it. I dare you to do so. Never shall he 
enter with my consent." 

Again she put her arms about him, soothing him 
gently with reassuring words. "It shall be as you 
wish. I promise, uncle. Now come to bed, and I'll 
fetch you hot bottles. Do come." 

He yielded suddenly to her persuasions, with a child- 
like obedience, and she assisted him with the greatest 
diffictdty to climb the stairs. He was very far spent, 
if not utterly done. Once within the room he ordered 
her to lock the door, and collapsing into a chair he 
watched her heap coal upon the fire and stir it into 
a blaze. In another moment or two she had ripped 
off his torn, sodden stockings, coat and waistcoat, and 
laid his dressing gown by his side. 

"Now I must leave you whilst I fill the hot bottles. 
I won't be long. Can you slip into your dressing-gown 
without help?" His head had dropped forward on 
his breast. She had to bend low to catch his answer. 

"Good girl ! Yes ; but wipe up the water first, and 
don't let her come near me. Lock the door, and take 
the key as you go out." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE ESCAPE 235 

She promised and ran downstairs, entering the 
kitchen like a little whirlwind. She recognized the 
truth, that her uncle was in a parlous state. The first 
thing she saw was Sarah Greatrex standing by the fire 
warming herself composedly. She held up her skirts 
ostentatiously, as if to avoid contact with the water 
upon the floor. 

"Your master is unwell. I am going to take him 
hot bottles," Letty quietly announced. The woman 
made no comment, nor did she attempt to assist Letty 
as she filled the stone jars from the kettle Sarah had 
set upon the fire. Just as she was about to leave the 
kitchen again, Mrs. Greatrex spoke. 

"Who did you say was unwell?" Her voice was 
ominous but controlled, and she glanced significantly 
at the door. 

'^y uncle." It was the first time she had spoken 
of him to Sarah by that name. She had always re- 
ferred to him as Mr. Thorpe. Now, the very fact of 
her claiming relationship, added to the strange events 
of the night, gave her a sepse of authority, and made 
her feel as if he really did belong to her. 

Again Sarah made no response, and she returned to 
her uncle's room and locked the door. He had con- 
trived to divest himself of the rest of his clothing, and 
was huddled up in the chair wrapped in his dressing- 
gown. Swiftly she turned down the bed, and again 
with the greatest difficulty, she contrived to get him 
into it. He signified his determination to remain 
where he was, but the extreme circiunstances gave her 
courage to insist, and he submitted to her at last, and 
she had the satisfaction of seeing him safe between the 
blankets, with the hot jars at his feet and sides. Vio- 
lent convulsions, and shivering fits still shook his 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



236 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

wasted frame. His teetfa rattled in his head, and a 
brilliant patch of fever now burned on each hollow 
cheek. With patient insistence she administered a lit- 
tle more brandy, and covered him warmly. 

As she was collecting his wet clothing he essayed 
to speak again, and she hurried to his side and bent 
over him. 

"Do you know where Harry is?" 

"Yes, uncle." 

He seemed to rally all his strength with a tremen- 
dous effort. 

"Take the key that is hanging round my neck, and 
hang it round your own. The box it belongs to is 
in my room, and is not to be opened till I tell you, or at 
my death. Send a telegram to Harry bidding him 
come here immediately. Take it to the gardener's cot- 
tage now, and ask him to go with it immediately to 
the post office. It will be sent the first thing in the 
morning. Are you afraid to do this?" 

"Of course not, uncle. But I don't like to leave 
you. Sarah is back again." 

"Sarah is no use. She would refuse to take the 
messages. Lock my door, and take the key with you. 
Come back to me as soon as you can, and don't admit 
her. Your promise 1" 

"I promise, uncle, and Harry will be here to-mor- 
row," she replied, and putting her hand beneath his 
head she slipped the string from his neck. 

He said no more. His eyes were closed^ and his 
breath was becoming more and more labored. As the 
sense of his acute danger was forced upon her she 
made another attempt to gain help. The diffidence she 
had always felt in his presence was gone. She put her 
lips to his ear. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THE ESCAPE 237 

**Won't you allow Jones to call the doctor when he 
goes to the village ?" 

A furious exclamation burst from him. "Can't you 
see, girl, that all the doctors in Christendom could 
do nothing for me? Leave me alone. Do as you are 
bid." Then suddenly his harsh voice softened, "Don't 
desert me, Letty. If I've been harsh to you, forgive 
me. I've no one but you." 

For the first time she bent her lips to his forehead, 
but he moved uneasily, as if evading the caress. 

"Trust me. I won't leave you a minute longer 
than I can help," she whispered back. As she locked 
the door and put the key in her pocket, she silently 
commended him to the care of the Almighty. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



r 

CHAPTER XX 

DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 

AFTER her hurried walk to the gardener's cot- 
tage Letty returned with all speed to the Lake 
House and reentered the kitchen. She felt dc^ tired 
from all the wild emotions she had passed through, 
and in view of her uncle's serious condition, and the 
probability of her having to remain with him all 
night, she deemed it wise to prepare a meal for her- 
self. 

Her first act was to mop up the water which Sarah 
had not condescended to remove, and which still 
formed a pool on the stone flags. Mrs. Greatrex had 
divested herself of her outdoor garments, and sat 
knitting composedly by the fire. She had obviously 
comforted herself with a meal, as the remains were 
still on the table, and the kettle was steaming on the 
hob. 

Letty had decided to treat her with supreme in- 
difference. If she chose to be civil, well and good. 
If she chose to be rude, she would be ignored. As 
she made no remark the girl fetched herself a tray, 
and an egg which she proceeded to boil, meanwhile 
cutting herself some bread and butter. When the tea 
was made she carried it into the deserted living- 
room. Though she had been in the kitchen for quite 
ten minutes Mrs. Greatrex had not condescended to 

238 • 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 239 

open her lips once. "Yet she must be aware that 
something very unusual has occurred," thought Letty, 
"and she can't have found out what condition uncle 
is in, as his door is locked and the key is in my pocket. 
Has she no curiosity to learn what is wrong, or where 
that pool of water came from ? What a strange woman 
she is; how hard and unfriendly!" 

Letty found herself very helpless in such an emer- 
gency as now had overtaken her. During the war her 
pupil had required all her attention, and she had per- 
formed no V.A.D. work like most English girls. She 
knew practically nothing of illness, and now she was 
deprived of the support of a doctor. All the responsi- 
bility was thrown on her shoulders, but as there could 
be no shrinking of its weight she must bear it to the 
best of her ability. 

She finished her meal as quickly as she could. The 
room looked and felt so strange to-night, without that 
familiar figure seated beneath the portrait The sin- 
gle lamp left all the comers in black shadow. The air 
seemed filled with beings who whispered together of 
dark secrets. The portrait assumed a more arrogant 
and dominating attitude. It seemed to her distorted 
fancy that Mark Thorpe stepped out of the canvas, and 
strode about the room in a new-found freedom. 

She fled precipitately from her morbid phantasies, 
and softly entered her uncle's room, locking the door 
behind her. The fire had died down, and she pro- 
ceeded to build it up again and light the lamp, which 
she turned low. Geoffrey Thorpe was apparently 
sleeping, a disturbed, uneasy sleep. His breath canie 
in rasping, rattling sighs, and one hand plucked cease- 
lessly at the coverlet. She bent over him in acute 
anxiety, as he lay with his face to the wall, a mere 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



240 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

shadowy wreck in the great four poster. She foresaw 
that the coming night would be a terrible ordeal for 
her, without the assistance of doctor or trained nurse — 
indeed without any assistance whatever. Supposing 
he should die in the night? For some moments she 
considered the advisability of seeking Sarah's aid, but 
two factors militated against her adopting this course; 
her solemn promise not to admit the woman, and the 
strong probability that she would be quite impossible 
to deal with, and would either refuse any assistance, 
or take matters entirely into her own hands, and ex- 
clude all from the sick-room but herself. Had she, 
Letty, any right to abandon her uncle, after having 
given her promise to remain with him, and keep Sarah 
at arm's length? 

After ten minutes anxious thought, she decided 
upon a course of action. It was clear that she must 
sit up all night with the sick man, and there were sev- 
eral articles, such as a kettle for hot water, miUc, bran- 
dy, with which she must provide herself before her 
vigil actually began. She decided that when collect- 
ing those articles downstairs she would tell Sarah ex- 
actly how matters stood, and see what effect this in- 
telligence produced upon her. It was unlikely, but just 
possible that she would offer assistance, or even some 
helpful suggestion. This course of action Letty pro- 
ceeded to carry out immediately. 

Sarah still sat in her deep armchair by the kitchen 
fire, knitting industriously. Her face was set like a 
flint. She did not raise her eyes, nor make the faintest 
sign of recognition. 

"I find Mr. Thorpe extremely ill, and I am going 
to remain with him all night. Unfortunately he won't 
allow me to send for a doctor." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 241 

Letty paused a moment, watching the woman close- 
ly. Not a flicker of the eyeKds, not a second's pause 
in the knitting could she detect. 

"I must take this kettle upstairs with me as I may 
need hot water in the night, and some milk and 
brandy." 

Still no response of any kind, and Letty went off 
to the larder to collect what she required. When she 
returned and all was in readiness to take upstairs, she 
looked straight at Mrs. Greatrex and said — 

"I believe my uncle to be so seriously ill that he 
may quite possibly pass away in the night." 

For a second or two she waited for some reply, some 
display of interest — ^none came. A flame of anger 
arose in her, and she burst out with irrepressible sharp- 
ness— 

"Have you nothing to say?" 

Sarah did not trouble to raise her eyes. "AU I have 
to say is — it is possible," was her laconic answer. 

It was as she thought. No assistance or sympathy 
was to be gained from that quarter, and she left the 
kitchen and Sarah alone with her evil nature. In an- 
other half hour her preparations for the night were 
completed, and she returned to Geoffrey Thorpe's room 
and locked the door securely. 

He was awake now, and his pallid lips were moving. 
He turned his glassy eyes towards her with the terror 
in them still. 

"Don't leave me again. He might come and stare 
down on me, all white and wet. I'm a dead man," he 
kept on muttering feebly. She thought his mind wan- 
dered, and she induced him to swallow a little milk 
mixed with brandy, then she busied herself about the 
room for a few moments, making him as comfortable 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2A2 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

as she could. Morning would dawn again, and the day 
would bring Harry, was the blessed thought she kept 
ever before her, and mentally she prayed continuously 
for help and strength to do right. 

The convulsive shivering had ceased ; a raging fever 
had followed, and the sick man's breathing was even 
more labored than before. He seemed much more 
prostrate. His eyes entreated her, and she bent over 
him again. 

"She tried the door whilst you were out with the 
telegram. Have I told you what happened?" 

"No, Uncle." 

"You might leave me if I did. What of Harry?" 

"He will be here to-morrow. I promise not to leave 
you, no matter what you may tell me," was her sooth- 
ing response. 

Again his lips moved, and they said distinctly the 
words he kept repeating, "I am a dead man. I am 
a dead man." 

She put an old feeding cup she had found to his 
lips, and he drained the contents eagerly, as if he 
craved for more strength. She thrust pillows behind 
his back, supporting his head on her arm. Instinctive- 
ly she felt that he would breathe more easily if propped 
up high. 

"If you believed that I was a murderer surely you 
would leave me, but as there is a Judge above I tried 
to save him, I wished to save him. How, then, can I 
be a murderer?" 

She had to bend low to catch the whispered words. 
All her senses seemed to become abnormally acute, 
and to concentrate themselves on the ashen misery of 
his face, on his distraught eyes. 

"If I had not struck off his hold on me we would 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 243 

have gone to the bottom together. His one hand held 
me like a vise. The water was deathly cold, and 
coated with ice. If my life would bring him back I 
would give it. The terror of it all, how it haunts mel 
I can't get away from him, always his eyes are glaring 
into mine. Sarah would kill me, if it were not for you. 
I implore you don't leave me — if only I had more 
time, but I'm a dead man.'' 

His eyes were aflame with wild supplication. They 
stared over her shoulder and round the room, search- 
ing the dark comers for something he dreaded to see. 

"I will not go away." 

Her heart was throbbing heavily. She was sick with 
the creeping fear that enveloped her, but she struggled 
out of its clutches. She was forced to hide her 
thoughts, however antagonistic they were, and she 
commanded her voice into level calmness. Geoffrey 
Thorpe might be a murderer, but he lay there in ex- 
tremis under her hands, and at her mercy. He must 
be helped, even if his muttered confessions were not 
the ravings of delirium, but the literal truth. 

He lapsed again into uneasy sleep, and she sat down 
by the fire. She had no inclination to sleep. Her 
brain was on fire, her thoughts working chaotically 
at high pressure. Gradually they concentrated into 
one firm conviction. 

Geoffrey Thorpe had killed the fugitive, whoever 
he might be. He had drowned him in the lake. That 
accounted for the dripping garments, the torn and 
scratched hands, the awful prostration after that ap- 
palling conflict. "His one hand!" The three words 
dung to her memory, and forced their significance 
upon her brain. Had the murdered man but one arm? 
That would account for his sinking. He couldn't 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



244 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

swim with one ann, and he had been left to drown. As 
she thought of that one-armed victim, lying stark at 
the bottom of the lake with the ice creeping over him, 
she shuddered convulsively, and experienced the mental 
nausea of intense repulsion. 

Midnight struck — one o'clock — ^two o'clock! Now 
and again the watch dog moaned eerily, and the owls 
called. In the room there was no sound but that 
stertorous labored breathing, the ticking of the clock, 
and the crackling of the fire, which from time to time 
she replenished. With a thrill of dread she saw, on 
looking round, that the man on the bed was awake, 
and his eyes were fixed upon her. 

''Drink! Drink!" he panted. "Give me strength 
to speak. I can't be silent longer. My soul is in hell.'' 

She put the cup to his lips and he drank greedily. 

"I killed Mark Thorpe. I hid him here — 3, prisoner 
for years. I want to tell Harry all. I've written out 
the story of my crime. It is in the box— you have 
the key — I thought he was too weak to escape — ^but 
he must have been shamming weakness to deceive me. 
When you gave the alarm you terrified me — you cried 
out. There is some one in the copse. I heard him 
drop from a tree outside the left wing.' I knew 
instantly what that meant. He must have loosened 
one of the iron bars — I had ceased examining them, 
believing he was too weak to tamper with them. He 
dropped from the branches of the old oak in the copse 
— I chased him with the swiftness of despair, and came 
up with him by the lake — ^we grappled together — but 
he was no match for me — ^he was weak from long con- 
finement, and his one arm was a hopeless handicap in 
any trial of strength — I would have brought him back 
to his prison, but as we grappled and fought like mad 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 245 

dogs on the icy edge of the lake we over-balanced and 
fell — crashing through the thin ice — ^and into the icy 
water — ^locked together in deadly combat — ^no one saw 
us. I dreamed that some one did — ^that a white angel 
stood in my path and called me to account — ^she said, 
*What have you done with Mark Thorpe?' and I an- 
swered truthfully, *I have drowned him' — ^then I went 
on my way, and the dream passed — ah ! for the sake 
of the name let my crime be buried in my grave." 

His wild eyes were riveted on her face in an awful 
appeal, but she could not meet them. A mysteri- 
ous force had been given to her, and she strung to- 
gether, like beads on one string, his gasping, dis- 
jointed utterances. With perfect clarity she envisaged 
the scene. 

*'Mrs. Greatrex knows you kept a prisoner here," 
she said in a dead level voice. 

She felt him shrink and cower away from her, 
shudderingly. 

"She will be silent for her own sake," he whispered 
hoarsely. "Ah! if only I were not failing so fast 
— for the sake of the name — for those Thorpes who 
will come after — suffer the grave to close over my 
sins. The deadly cold of the water numbed my 
brain, and every bone of my bcxiy. The struggle was 
for life or death, and the madness of self-preservation 
was on me. I '* 

He ceased whispering. A wildly tossed spirit stared 
from the pale windows of his anguished soul. His 
head fell heavily back on her arm. 

She withdrew it, and laid him back straight on the 
pillows. The whistling, labored breathing drowned all 
other sounds, till the fourth hour struck harshly from 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



246 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

the stable clock and she looked round the awful dreari- 
ness of the room. 

Geoffrey Thorpe no longer lay still. He tossed in 
a wild delirium, and muttered ceaselessly and inco- 
herently. His throat rattled horribly, like the rough 
shaking of the dice, and one hand kept plucking at the 
coverlet. "It is the hand of a murderer," she thought, 
and she saw those claw-like fingers wrench off the 
dinging clasp, and saw the one-armed man go down 
into the dark waters for the last time. The ice must 
have closed over the place, and perhaps the stockman's 
children would slide upon it. Once she had seen his 
boy fishing there, where the herons came to feed, and 
the moorhens wove their wattled nests. They would 
be unconscious of the dead face staring up at them 
from the bottom, for children are too freshly sent forth 
from the hand of God to conceive of murder. Would 
he be f oimd ? Would they bring him in, knowing by 
instinct that he rightly belonged to the Lake House, 
had indeed been its rightful owner? Yet, whose 
thoughts would hark back to a man— dead to the 
world for long years in a distant land? How would 
they account for what might any day be found in the . 
lake when the frost went? Surely, every stray man 
who trod its brink, or saw the trees bending mourn- 
fully over it, must know the terrible thing that had 
taken place last night. 

Only last night! It seemed to Letty that weeks 
must have passed since she sat in the kitchen waiting 
for Geoffrey Thorpe's return. At last she knew the 
secret of the Lake House — ^understood the terror of 
it that had haunted her by night and day. Those foot- 
steps were Geoffrey Thorpe's, and he was on his way 
to feed his prisoner. That key hanging on his finger 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 247 

was the key that locked the captive's door. That cord 
across the entrance to the corridor was a precaution, 
not a necessity; the cords barring the other passages 
were but blinds. 

She looked again towards the bed. The terrible 
face with the staring, glazing eyes, worked and 
twitched hideously. One hand plucked the coverlet, 
the other was raised, the fingers spread out wide and 
then clenched again. There was no longer the strug- 
gling breath, but the dice box shook and rattled contin- 
uously. Tlie devil was playing with God for his soul, 
she thought almost indifferently. She had been sitting 
there all night, but she felt no weariness. Hours had 
fled by unheeded. She only sensed some great change 
which had come over all things, and robbing her of 
her youth made her feel quite old. When morning 
came how could she go down and face the woman who 
knew of that crime which now had been revealed, the 
woman who knew of that cruel captivity, and who, 
utterly lacking human compassion, had suffered it to 
be? 

An arid sense of duty urged her to rise and approach 
the bed, the cup in her hand. She held it to his lips, 
but there was no response, only that hideous rattle. 
With an heroic effort she dipped her fingers in brandy 
and moistened his lips. His mouth sagged open, his 
eyes stared with no speculation in them. A wave of 
terror swept over her. Was this death? She had 
never been in the dread presence before. God ! what 
an endless night! Would dawn never come? "God 
help me,'' she prayed in mental anguish. 

But, as she stood there looking down on the bed a 
calm stole through her, a great change of thought 
swelled in her heart. Her uncle's obvious sufferings 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



248 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

touched her acutely, with a pitying wistfulness. What 
was such a life as his had been but one long torment, a 
hell ten times worse than his miserable prisoner's — ^a 
never ceasing vigilance, a perpetual dread that the 
slender hair might break, and the sword descend upon 
him? If he lived, and the truth were known what 
would be his fate? But he would not live, death 
would save him. The hair had snapped, the sword 
had fallen. So weird and unnatural did the whole 
tragedy appear, that sitting there by the fire Letty 
strove to arouse herself at times from her horrible 
musings, and throw off the vapors of a dreadful night- 
mare. But the tragic face was there on the pil- 
low, and those clenching hands and the dice box 
tattled on. Outside lay the lake with the one-armed 
man at its bottom, and the smooth ice spun by the 
bitter north for his shroud. She was in the turgid 
stream of reality. She could not forget that one arm 
— ^had she been able to do so she might have felt less 
horror. 

The morning wore on, but daylight was still afar 
off. She drank a little milk, made up the fire and laid 
her head back on her chair. In a moment she was 
asleep. 

A sound at the door awakened her abruptly. Some 
one was knocking, and she jumped up, staring into 
the unfamiliar space, striving to recollect where she 
was, struggling with the awful memory of the past 
hours. The long night was over, and the gray dawn 
penetrating the room looked unspeakably chill, gloomy 
and mournful The pallid light of a snowy morning 
was filtering through the blinds, and fighting against 
the black shadows. The utter silence struck instantly, 
ominously on her strained senses. The dice box rat- 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



DEATH COMES TO THE LAKE HOUSE 249 

tied no more, the throw had been made. Her eyes 
turned to the bed. Geoffrey Thorpe lay stiU, witfi 
gaping mouth and staring eyes, but yet he was clothed 
by what was august. 

She went swiftly to the door and threw it open. 
Sarah Greatrex stood there. 

*Tt is half-past seven," she said sullenly. 

Letty looked at her tranquilly. "Your master is 
dead," she said, and went away along the corridor 
to her own room. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XXI 
warburton's task 

AMBROSE WARBURTON was smoking his pipe 
after early celebration and breakfast The sun 
was shining brightly into his study. A slight fall of 
snow had taken place during the night, but the storm 
had passed over, and the day promised to be a perfect 
winter one, of hard frost and cloudless sky. 

He opened the morning paper and glanced down 
its contents, but before he could be immersed in the 
latest labor worry the door opened, and his sister 
entered. 

"This note has just been sent up from Little Glent- 
worth. It's marked 'immediate/ " 

Ambrose took it, and saw with a little thrill of 
pleasure that the handwriting was Miss Howard's. 

"Let's see what she says. Is any cme waiting?" 

"Yes! A garden boy. He says there's an an- 
swer." 

Emily walked to the window and jHcked a few 
dead leaves from some geraniums growing there. She 
wheeled round on hearing a perplexed exdamatioa 
from her brother. 

"There! you may read what she says. It isn't 
marked private, and she seems to have no secrets 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 251 

from you," he said, handing her the note. "What do 
you make of it?" 

"Something terrible has happened to Hilda. Will 
you come to see us as soon as you possibly can? In 
desperate need of your advice. 

"Agnes." 

Emily folded the paper and laid it in front of him. 
She was suddenly and deeply perturbed with a sense 
of impending calamity. 

"When will you go? This is something very 
urgent," she asked gravdy. 

Ambrose was already drawing writing materialsl 
towards him. He glanced at his watch. 

"At half-past ten," he muttered, scribbing rapid- 

There was silence between them for a moment or 
two, whilst his pen flew on. A knock sounded at the 
door, and Emily went forward and opened it. The 
little maidservant stood outside, with a scared expres- 
sion on her chubby face. 

"Please, Miss, Mr. Thorpe of the Lake House is 
dead, and Jones has come to tell the vicar." 

Ambrose had raised his head as certain words felt 
upon his ear. 

"What's that?" he called out sharply. 

Emily signed to the girl to go away and closed the 
door again. 

"Jones from the Lake House has come to tell you 

that Mr. Thorpe is dead, perhaps ^" she hesitated 

a moment, "perhaps the note and this unexpected news 
have some connection." 

"How could they ?" he answered abruptly. He was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



252 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

staring in front of him in a perplexed manner. Was 
something big and terrible coming at last into his un- 
eventful life? 

"I feel there is a vital connection/' 

He grasped the purport, rather than the words she 
uttered. He was conscious of a similar sensatic^, 
though he did not say so. 

"Ask Jones to come in here at once." 

Emily found the garden boy from Little Glentworth, 
Jones, and the maid in low, but excited confabulation. 
She dispersed the little gathering, by conducting Jones 
to the study and closing the door. 

"What's this, I hear?'' asked Ambrose, after a 
quick "Good morning." 

"Mr. Thorpe, 'e died at dawn. Got a chill, so Mrs. 
Greatrex says. I only seed 'im well yester momin', 
but Steve, that be the watch dog, was 'owlin' somethin' 
fearful in the cvenin', and I 'eard 'im again in the 
nig^t," stated the Gnome emphatically. 

"Didn't you know Mr. Thorpe was ill, and was no 
doctor called in?" questioned Ambrose. 

Jones shook his head. "A queer thing did 'appen 
about eight o'clock. Miss Letty rapped at my door, 
and gave orders from Mr. Thorpe to take a letter 
immediate to Ann Binns, the postmistress. I did as 
I were bid. It were a fine moon night and 'ard frost. 
It were addressed 'Postmistress, Great Glentworth,' 
and marked 'immediate', and the writin' were Miss 
Letty's, anyway it weren't Mr. Thorpe's. I weren't 
inside the Lake 'Ouse after ten yester' mornin', when 
I took in wood and coal, and I were workin' after 
dinner in the gardens, right away from the 'ouse. I 
'eard Steve clear enough. This mornin' at eight o'clock 
Mrs. Greatrex says to me, *Mr. Thorpe died of a 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 253 

chill at dawn. Go and arsk yer wife to come and lay 
'im out/ " 

The Gnome paused to observe the effect his state- 
ment was having upon the vicar. He had reason to 
be satisfied. Ambrose was listening to him, and 
looking at him, with profound interest and attention. 

"Were you told to come here?" 

"No, Vicar, I weren't, but I thought as 'ow you 
ought to know, seein' that Miss Letty's all alone." 

A gleam of lively sympathy sprang into the vicar's 
eyes. "You were perfectly right, Jones. I thank 
you. Is that all you have to tell me?" 

"That's all, sir. I 'aven't seen Miss Letty, and I 
knows Sarah Greatrex ain't company for any one. 
Turned 'er back on me, she did, after givin' 'er or- 
ders." 

"Well, Jones, go now to the kitchen and wait there. 
I'll give you a note to take to Miss Letty, which you 
must try to deliver into her own hand." 

Jones pulled his forelock and departed, and Ambrose 
and Emily looked at one another. 

"Strange, unexpected news, which may have 
great tragedy lurking beneath. Coming hard on the 
heels of this note." He tapped Miss Howard's appeal 
significantly. "I begin to agree with you. There's 
a connection. I'll go at once to Little Glentworth, 
and then on to the Lake House and try to probe 
events." 

"And I will go and prepare a room for Letty. 
You will bring her back with you. Harry will certain- 
ly arrive some time to-day. He shall have a room also ; 
he may prefer to come here rather than remain in 
that desolate house," Emily announced briskly. 

Ambrose looked at her thoughtfully. She was a 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



254 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

great help to him, with her ready grasp and quick 
intuitions. 

''Right! We may take it as a certainty that Letty 
will be with us to-night; meanwhile I need hardly say 
to you, be discreet, dear. Wait one second, whilst 
I write the notes." 

She sat down and waited silently, while her mind 
worked rapidly. Mr. Thorpe dead! Harry was now 
master of the Lake House property, and Letty would 
very soon be mistress there. Probably the note she 
took to Jones and bade him deliver was a telegram 
to summon him. Why any mystery? Why had she 
not tdd Jones that her uncle was ill? She must 
have known of his illness at that hour, and what had 
caused such a sudden collapse? Geoffrey Thorpe did 
not go out. What had caused his diill? Emily 
hated mystery. Her nature was extremely frank and 
open. Now she felt uneasy and uncomfortably ex- 
cited. 

"There are the two notes. One for Miss Howard, 
the other for Letty. See that they are delivered as 
soon as possible. Fll take my bike, and be at Little 
Glentworth almost as soon as the boy,'' said Ambrose, 
breaking in on her anxious reflections. 

Afterwards Ambrose wondered what had made him 
go first to Little Glentworth? Surely it would have 
been more natural to visit the house of death, and the 
lonely Letty, before obeying that imperious call for 
help emanating from Miss Howard. 

He was shown immediately into Mrs. Davenant's 
boudoir, where he found both ladies. They welcomed 
him with a totally unusual gravity and pre-occupation, 
and he sensed tragedy in their atmosphere. 

"Sit down by the fire. What we have to tell you 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 255 

will take some little time," said Agnes gravely. "We 
are going to confide absolutely in you, because we both 
have a deep sense of your trustworthiness and sound 
judgment. Firstly, I warn you that what we have to 
say is of a startling and terrible nature." 

Warburton betrayed no surprise. He had come 
with the expectation of receiving startling disclosures. 

"Fm to be depended upon, so far as keeping your 
confidence is concerned. As to my sound judgment — 
well! I can only do my best to merit your trust," 
he replied quietly. "Tell me bald facts first, please. 
We can fill in detail after." 

"Last night, about half-past four, Mr. Thorpe of 
the Lake House murdered a man called Mark Thorpe, 
who was my husband." 

It was Hilda who spoke. Her words were cold and 
clear. They seemed to fall from her pale lips like 
drops of ice. She looked, not at him, but straight be- 
before her into the middle of the room. 

He slowly repeated her words, one by one, in si- 
lence to himself. What did they mean? He sat lean- 
ing his head on his hand watching her intently. She 
seemed perfectly composed, though she was very pale, 
and bore evidence of suffering under some great strain. 
Perhaps never had she looked more beautiful than • 
now, wrapped in a dead white cashmere shawl, and de- 
void of all ornament. 

"Will you give me as briefly as possible your evi- 
dence for this accusation?" he asked gently. 

"I was present on the border of the lake when the 
crime was committed. Though I did not see it actually 
done, I heard it, and saw both murderer and murdered. 
When Geoffrey Thorpe turned to creep home alone I 
confronted him in his streaming garments. I demanded 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2S6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

to know what he had done with Mark Thorpe. His 
reply was, 1 have drowned him/ My husband only 
had erne arm, and was therefore at a serious disad- 
vantage in a conflict, even with a much older man. I 
went afterwards to the spot where the murder had 
taken place. It was easily found, because of the tram- 
pled ground and broken ice. I saw nothing, I heard 
nothing more, thought I remained on the bank some 
time. There was not a ripple on the surface of the 
big hole torn in the ice. It must be frozen over again 
by now. I came to the conclusion that life was extinct, 
and that Mark Thorpe lay dead at the bottom. Then 
I got home somehow. I hardly know how; I was 
utterly spent." 

"How did this man, Mark Thorpe, whom you say 
was your husband, come to be in the neighborhood?" 
Warburton spoke after a long silence, during which 
lie strove to assimilate her terrible statements. They 
seemed to him as the dreams of insanity. 

"I can't answer that question. I can only offer 
the supposition that, either he was kept concealed in 
the Lake House, or he made a sudden dramatic ap^ 
pearance there. I was married to him in the United 
States fourteen years ago. We could not live together. 
• At one time I had reason to believe he was dead, then 
I received a letter purporting to be from him, saying 
he had lost an arm in a shipwreck. This letter I re- 
ceived six years ago. We have never met again since 
we parted in America, until last night, when we stood 
face to face. The recognition was mutual. He was 
the real owner of the Lake House property. Now, 
what is to be done to Geogrey Thorpe, who has mur- 
dered him in order to retain his hold on the lands 
which were never his?" 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 257 

Ambrose Warburton answered the tragic question 
very quietly. 

i "The Ahnighty has already made reply. Geoffrey 
Thorpe died this morning at dawn." 
i The pale tragedy of her face did not change. For 
hours she had been feeling with all the intensity possi- 
ble to her deep nature. This new development did not 
even astonish her. She made no answer, and Ambrose 
fell into deep thought, out of which the women did 
not seek to rouse him. What wild, improbable phan- 
tasy was this story he had listened to? he asked himself. 
Yet he knew it was true. He thought of the idle bab- 
blings he had so often heard, as to the mystery sur- 
rounding Mrs. Davenant and Agnes Howard, and as 
so continuously happens in this world, the reality was 
infinitely stranger and more poignant than any fiction 
emanating from the imagination of man. He knew he 
was now called upon to bear an enormous responsi- 
bility. He felt the weight of it already, and showed it 
in his face and voice when he spoke again. 

"Before offering any opinion, or taking any action, 
I must think over the revelations I have heard from 
you. They must be weighed, and much doubtless re- 
mains to be added to them. I am going from here 
straight to the Lake House to see Letty. I must also 
see Harry Thorpe, who will surely arrive to-day. You 
must give me permission to confide to Harry all that 
you have told to me." 

"You will have to tell both Harry and Letty," said 
Agnes decidedly. "Hilda has no desire to make any 
mystery, or hide the truth. We leave matters entire- 
ly in your hands. Please use your own discretion. 
We are both rather anxious about Letty, the more so 
now that we know the old man is dead." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



2S8 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

"I will bring her back to the Vicarage with me/' 
answered Warburton, and then he briefly related the 
little he knew of the old man's death. What was ob- 
scure had now become clear. Geoffrey Thorpe had 
not long survived the conflict, and the submersion in 
the icy water of the lake. The hand of man had been 
balked of its prey, but the hand of God had stricken 
him down with merciless rapidity and severity. 

"I must ask you for the loan of your car to-day,** 
went on Warburton. "Let it be at the Lake House 
in an hour, and I will try to find time to see you again 
this evening. Now, I must go and see Letty. I will 
do my best for all concerned, but I require time and 
quiet to think out this awful tragedy. One most im- 
portant admonition I leave with you both. Be silent, 
and admit no outsiders.'' 

"We will abide by your advice. I am hardly in a 
condition to receive callers," replied Mrs. Davenant 
bitterly. "Believe me, we realize to the full the diffi- 
culties lying ahead, and the terrible responsibility we 
are asking you to bear, but both Agnes and I feel 
you are the only soul in this world we can turn to in 
this crisis — ^the only man in whom we can place implicit 
confidence and trust." 

At any other time such an assurance would have 
brought great happiness. It would have proved to 
him that his ministry was not all in vain, but now so 
great was hl^ perturbation of mind that he scarcely 
^grasped the purport of her words. His thoughts were 
already concentrating on that other interview awaiting 
him at the Lake House, and he shook hands hurriedly 
and took his departure. 

When left alone the two women sat silent for many 
minutes wrapped in thought Hilda lay back in her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 259 

chair with closed eyes. She had not slept all night, 
and looked utterly exhausted. Agnes had sat up with 
her, and looked scarcely less fatigued. She bent over 
her friend and kissed her gently. 

"Try to rest now, Hilda. I am going to get a breath 
of air in the garden." 

Mrs. Davenant opened her eyes to meet those bend- 
ing over her. 

"Do not let us forget, Agnes, that the worst part 
of this miserable tragedy has still to be told." 

Warburton mounted his bicycle and rode away 
through the hard frozen, thin coating of snow that 
was spread over the country. The sun shone brilliant- 
ly in a cloudless sky, but the vicar was in no humor to 
enjoy the beauties of nature. He was profoundly 
agitated by the startling events which had so abruptly 
stirred the pool of his quiet life. He felt how great 
was his responsibility, holding as he now did such 
tragic secrets. Would they remain secrets, or be 
blazoned to the world ? With horror he thought of the 
Press gloating over a new and thrilling series of sen- 
sations. As to his own part in the drama of events 
he could form no conjecture. There was so much he 
still must learn, in order to fill in gaps and present to 
his mind a clear sequence of the tragedy. 

Harry must at once be told the truth, so far as he 
knew it. Letty it might be possible to spare, yet 
surely she must suspect something of whit had actually 
occurred. Consumed by anxious thoughts he reached 
the gates of the Lake House, and stopped to draw 
breath and look about him. There was no sound, the 
silence of snow was all about him, stretching white 
seas, a wavelike procession of hidden furrows fading 
into continual white foam. The faint howling of a 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



26o THE BEAUTIFUL MRS, DAVENANT 

dog called him back to life again, and he stared about 
him with deep interest as he proceeded slowly along 
the imkept drive. 

When the old black and white timbered house rose 
suddenly up before him, involuntarily he uttered an 
exclamation of utter surprise. Its dilapidated grim- 
ness was veiled beneath a glittering mantle of purest 
white, and long sparkling icicles dropped from, and 
draped the lead pipes and eaves. A fairy palace stood 
before him, in place of the gloomy abode of death and 
abominable crime. 

He passed round to the back door, throwing a kind 
word to Steve who was barking violently. Letty had 
told him that in winter the front of the house was kept 
closed, and seeing no one about he opened the door 
and walked in. A long, stone-flagged passage lay be- 
fore him, and traversing its length he found himself 
in a square hall, on to which several doors opened. 

As he stood uncertainly looking about him, one of 
the doors opened and Mrs. Greatrex confronted him. 

He bade her "Good day," quietly. '*I have come 
to see Miss Thome. I am aware that Mr. Thorpe is 
dead/' he explained. 

She had not spoken yet, and he saw a dull red rise 
over her sallow face. 

'1 admit no one into this house. Mr. Harry Thorpe 
has not arrived. Until he does I am mistress here," 
she retorted defiantly. 

Prepared as he was for unpleasantness should they 
meet, her rough attitude took him by surprise. He had 
not anticipated anything quite so forbidding as this. 

"I am afraid that I must dispute that claim of 
yours, Mrs. Greatrex. You have never been mistress 
here/* he returned quietly, but very decidedly. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 261 

His cool attitude appeared to infuriate her. 

"How dare you dispute my claim?" she demanded, 
approaching nearer to him menacingly. "Perhaps it 
may satisfy you to learn that I am the dead man's 
widow. I am Mrs. Geoffrey Thorpe. Now, begone 
with you. When Harry Thorpe takes possession he 
can do as he pleases, but imtil he arrives my authority 
here is supreme." 

She gave a movement of her arms, as if to sweep 
him off the premises, but he stood his ground. Her 
assertion astoimded him, but he did not show it. The 
day had brought him so many shocks, and her trucu- 
lence sharpened his wits. How thankful he was now 
that his first visit had been paid to Mrs. Davenant. 
His eyes lost their seriousness, and were bright with 
defiance, but he possessed great self-control as well as 
determination. He meant to take his own way, but 
he intended to gain it, if possible, by peaceable means. 

"It is quite immaterial to me who you are, Mrs. 
Greatrex or Mrs. Thorpe, but I must demand that you 
confine yourself to facts. You have never been mistress 
here, nor has Geoffrey Thorpe ever been master here, 
for the simple reason that the real owner was alive 
until last night." 

The effect of his words was even greater than he 
anticipated. She threw her hand across her mouth as 
if to arrest a scream, and her face blanched to the 
pallor of death. Her black eyes, riveted on his face, 
were terror stricken. 

"Go back to your room and remain there," he 
commanded sternly; "your crime has yet to be dealt 
with." 

Without glancing at her again he struck off through 
another corridor to the right, which he trusted might 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



262 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

lead him to Letty. At the far end of it he saw her 
standing, awaiting him. 

"Oh ! I hoped it was you. I heard Steve barking/* 
she cried in a broken voice, as she ran to meet him 
with outstretched hands. 

She guided him to the empty living-room, where 
Geoffrey Thorpe's papers still littered the table, at 
which for so many years he had sat. The white reflec- 
tion from without searched the dark comers, and lit 
up the portrait of Mark Thorpe, who now lay drowned 
at the bottom of the lake. It seemed to Letty that the 
expression had changed to one almost of contemptuous 
triumph. "I gained my liberty at last," he seemed to 
say, "such liberty as none can ever deprive me of 
again.** 

They sat down side by side on a couch, and it was 
with deep distress he noted the ravages nlade upon her 
face by the ordeal she had been through. As he looked 
at her he had no doubt that she knew all there was to 
be known. He noted also that her condition of 
strained nervousness and tense mentality made her 
afraid of every word she uttered. 

"You look desperately tired," he said gently; **have 
you had any sleep?" 

He saw fear creep into her eyes, and she let Aem 
fall upon the restless hands in her lap. 

"No, I couldn't sleep. I sat up all night with 
uncle." 

"Where was Mrs. Greatrex?" 

"I suppose in bed," was the confused reply. '*You 
see uncle wouldn't have her near him." 

"Or a doctor either," suggested Warburton. "Had 
he any idea of his danger?" 

"Yes I he knew that he was dying." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 263 

She was twisting her shaking fingers in her hand- 
kerchief, and seemed on the verge of tears. He felt 
the strong necessity of relieving the tension and put- 
ting her at ease. Now, she was in an agony of fear lest 
she commit herself by word or gesture. 

"I want you to remember, dear Letty, that a clergy- 
man is used to receiving the most private coniSdences, 
and that I am to be absolutely trusted with any- 
thing you may have to tell me. Believe me I can 
help you. As no doctor was called in, directly Harry 
arrives he will send for Williams to certify as to the 
cause of death. That must be done, and I wish you 
to promise that from Harry you will keep back no 
detail> however small. There must be no secret locked 
up in your breast, under the belief that loyalty to the 
dead demands silence. The dead belong to God, not 
to man." 

She was starfeg at him with wide, terrified eyes, 
"Secret! What secret do you suspect?" she whispered 
thickly. 

"I know what you feel to be the most terrible se- 
cret — the crime that brought about your uncle's death," 
he returned gravely. "No matter for the moment 
how I know it. Does Mrs. Greatrex know what killed 
Geoffrey Thorpe?" 

She was agonized, but her sincere soul threw sub- 
terfuge most thankfully aside. Her heart quailed on 
learning that another shared her secret, yet his words 
brought her enormous relief. The barrier was down. 

"I don't know. We have not spoken together, but 
I think she must suspect She is aware that uncle 
came back streaming with water, and she knows that — 
that the other man is no longer in the house," she 
faltered. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



264 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"Did you know who this man was, Letty?" 

She looked round at him with a flash of surprise. 
*'No, how could I know who he was? I didn't know 
a man was hidden here, though I felt something terrible 
in the atmosphere of the house. Now I do know who 
he was^ for uncle confessed to me during the endless, 
terrible night. He said that his prisoner must have 
pretended to be weaker than he really was. He had 
not expected him to attempt to escape. He has written 
a full confession which I have got safely hidden away." 

Warburton breathed a sigh of intense relief. "That 
will be a document more closely concerning Harry than 
any one else," he said. "What time do you expect 
him?" 

She told him of the urgent telegram she had sent 
the night before, and the reply which Jones had 
brought back from the post office. Harry would arrive 
at one o'clock. 

"I will wait here to receive him, and I will take 
you back with me to the Vicarage. Needless to say 
you can't remain here," was Warburton's kindly re- 
joinder. "Though Harry is now the actual owner 
of the Lake House property there will be many diffi- 
culties to settle. One of those difficulties has been 
definitely disposed of since I entered this house, Letty. 
I refer to Mrs. Greatrex, who claims to be mistress 
here, until Harry arrives." 

"That is no new attitude," retui-ned Letty, "she al- 
ways has been mistress here." 

"Yet, without a shadow of claim," sternly retorted 
the vicar. "Now, if you will think for a moment, you 
will realize that even Geoffrey Thorpe had no real 
claim to be master. How could he have a claim whilst 
Mark Thorpe lived? For a very few hours he was 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



WARBURTON'S TASK 265 

legally master — ^literally between sunset and dawn. 
With his death his brief tenure passed to Harry. Had 
you any conception that your uncle had married Mrs. 
Greatrex?" 

The speechless amazement on her face convinced 
him that she had known nothing of this, and he pro- 
ceeded. 

"I have effectually silenced her for the time being, 
by bringing home to her that she was accessory to the 
crime of imprisoning the actual owner of the Lake 
House, of usurping his functions, and appropriating 
his revenues. Harry will deal with her as he thinks best 
I have told you of this new disclosure, only in order to 
assure you that you may meanwhile act as authority 
here, and as Harry's deputy. Make any preparation 
you choose for his comfort on arrival, and Jones will 
take your orders now, and assist you in any way. My 
advice to you is, treat Mrs. Greatrex, or Mrs. Thorpe 
which she claims to be, exactly as if she did not exist. 
There must be many little domestic matters to arrange, 
such as provisioning the house, which she will certainly 
no longer attend to, and which will be necessary to 
Harry's comfort during the next few days, and you 
must call in help, for Mrs. Thorpe will be in no humor 
to go about her ordinary household duties. A room 
ought to be prepared for Harry to use if he chooses. 
He will have an enormous amount of work to do. Will 
you undertake to act at once as mistress here?" 

As he spoke he saw with satisfaction the effect his 
words were having upon her. She was beginning to 
grasp the real situation. Out of a lethargy of shock 
and horror she was rousing herself to attend to duty, 
and rise to the emergency. Her mind would thus be 
distracted from tragedy, and turned into healthy and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



266 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

useful channels. When he rose to go and look his last 
upon the dead Geoffrey Thorpe, she rose also with 
purposeful energy, eager to carry out his instructions 
and suggestions, and make preparation for the arrival 
of her lover. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XXII 
AGNES Howard's reward 

IT was nine o'clock before Warburton found time 
to go again to Little Glentworth. His day had 
been crowded with such startling and terrible revela- 
tions that he felt absolutely worn out in mind and 
body. Still, a hidden urge within prompted him to 
learn at once any further details, to obtain certain 
missing links in the Lake House tragedy before he 
slept. Added to this, he was fully alive to the fact 
that the ladies at Little Glentworth would be deeply 
anxious for any further news he could supply. 

Harry had arrived in Mrs. Davenant's car, greatly 
perplexed, but made aware by the chauffeur that Geof- 
frey Thorpe was dead, and after a few minutes passed 
alone with Letty the three sat down to a simple meal. 
Mrs. Geoffrey Thorpe did not appear, and Letty 
stated that she seemed to be very busy packing up, 
and had not opened her lips whilst they were alone 
together in the kitchen. Then followed an hour or 
two of painful disclosures, in which Letty recounted 
all she knew, and Warburton supplemented her in- 
formation from Mrs. Davenant's statements of the 
morning. 

The close connection between Hilda Davenant and 
the murdered man was amazing enough in itself, but 
his imprisonment for years in a wing of the Lake 

267 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



268 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

House, without any living soul outside having even 
suspected that he still lived, seemed to Harry so pre- 
posterously improbable that he wondered at moments 
if he was passing through some hideous nightmare. 
Sometimes he asked himself if Mrs. Davenant was 
sane or insane, in claiming Mark Thorpe as her hus- 
band. Was she under some wild hallucination when 
stating her experiences of the previous evening? 

But there was Letty's account of the man dropfwng 
from the tree, of the alarm she had given, and of 
Geoffrey Thorpe's terror, which drove him forth in 
pursuit of the fugitive. There was that return alone 
in dripping garments, and the confession that followed 
before he breathed his last. Geoffrey Thorpe had pos- 
sessed no knowledge of Hilda's relationship to his 
captive. Even the astute Mrs. Greatrex had failed to 
suspect the connection. It was very unlikely, judging 
from Hilda's statement, that Mark Thorpe had escaped 
drowning. Later her words would be fully corrobor- 
ated. Their long and careful sifting of available facts 
came to an end at last, and it was decided that Geoffrey 
Thorpe should be buried with his forefathers in Little 
Glentworth Church. His crime, they all agreed, must 
be dealt with later, when the full volume of facts relat- 
ing to it had been compiled. 

Harry decided to remain at the Lake House, in 
the room that Letty had labored hard to prepare for 
him, and where so much work awaited him: not the 
least painful duty falling to his share being an inter- 
view with Mrs. Geoffrey Thorpe, before she took her 
final departure. 

Warburton fully agreed with Letty and Harry that 
if the crime could, without injury to others, be buried 
in the old man's grave, it would be best for all parties 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S REWARD 269 

concerned, but there could be no final decision until 
the widow of the murdered man had been consulted. 

It was six o'clock before Letty and Warburton were 
free to drive off to the Vicarage, with the promise to 
return on the following afternoon, and bring with them 
Mrs. Davenant. The confession of Geoffrey Thorpe, 
now in Harry's safe possession, would then be read 
aloud. Letty had been put to bed at once by the 
compassionate Emily, and was vastly comforted by 
Harry's nearness and the kindness of her friends. 
Then the brother and sister had a long confidential 
talk whilst they sat at supper, and before Ambrose set 
out once again for Little Glentworth. 

On arrival he saw that he was expected, and he was 
at once shown to the drawing-room. Agnes Howard 
was standing up alone by the fire awaiting him. 

The ruddy light falling upon her showed her very 
pale, and dark rings round her eyes spoke of great 
anxieties. Assuredly some heavy trouble lay at her 
heart. She did not speak or move till the door was 
closed behind him, and he had advanced towards her. 
Then she held out her hand. 

"This is good of you. You must be so weary ; but 
I've always trusted you f rofn the moment we first met, 
as I've trusted no one else in my life. Hilda has had 
to go to bed with a splitting headache, and has deputed 
me to be perfectly open and frank with you, as regards 
her past. I will be equally frank regarding my own." 

She motioned him to a chair, and they faced one 
another, but he turned aside his head and shaded his 
eyes with his hand, that she might not see the pallor 
that had overspread his face. He cared for her so 
deeply that he shrank with dread from this coming 
interview. Her past! What was she about to tell 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



270 THE BEAUTIFUi: MRS. DAVENANT 

him? Then he sensed in her silence a tiny thread of 
doubt creeping through her mind, and he rallied all his 
forces, thrust aside his love for her and grasped the 
stem realities of the hour. The look in his eyes, as 
they now met hers, reassured her. 

"What I am going to tell you is the latter history 
of two women's lives, lived in defiance of orthodox 
morality. Above all, I must impress upon you the 
absolute fact that I have stood willingly by Hilda 
through all her troubles, and will do so to the end. I 
have in fact condoned, nay even encouraged in her 
certain actions, that to you will doubtless seem very 
terrible." 

She paused, and he shot her a glaxice of encourage- 
ment as he leaned forward, deeply attentive to her 
words. He had command of himself now, and she 
could no longer dismay him. 

*'l am accustomed to tragic disclosures," he re- 
minded her gently. "That they come chiefly from 
those in a humble walk of life does not make them less 
interesting to me. I try to understand human nature 
and its infinite complexities, and to remember my own 
painful deficiencies. Is it really your considered wish 
to confide in me?" 

Her eyes dilated as she watched him closely. She 
was about to reveal herself in a light which she believed 
would be hateful to him. She experienced some pre- 
science of the poignant regret that would always haunt 
her life, unless it remained in touch with his, yet she 
did not flinch. As yet she did not bear him love, but 
there was in her, stronger than she knew, a reverence, 
an admiration, a respect for him that drew her to him 
with an indefinable attraction, and which might sooner 
or later deepen into love. Already it was sufficient to 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD^S REWARD 271 

make her realize that profound regret would darken 
her future, should he become estranged from her. 

"It is absolutely necessary that I confide in you, in 
order to throw full light on the crime just committed. 
We have looked on you as our sincere friend. As you 
know, we have no male relatives to turn to in an 
emergency. There will be many details upon which 
we must seek advice. Before I go further, Mr. War- 
burton, do you accept the trust?" 

He threw back his head, his whole expression that 
of vigorous strength, 

"I most willingly accept any trust you may honor 
me with, Agnes, and with all my heart and soul and 
the help of God I will advise and aid you to the best 
of my ability." 

Unconsciously, the name by which he thought of her 
passed his lips. That, and the glow of strength in his 
voice and eyes heartened her exceedingly to go for- 
ward to her task. There was no mistaking his sincerity. 

"I thank you," she said quietly. "Now I will begin 
with the early life of Hilda Davenant. That was her 
maiden name. She was bom of poor parents in New 
York, and she always possessed great beauty. At an 
early age she went on the stage, and made considerable 
progress in her profession. She remained absolutely 
virtuous, according to the orthodox conception of the 
word, until after she became the wife of Mark Thorpe, 
fourteen years ago. They were married in Washing- 
ton, where she was playing. 

"At that period I lived also in Washington, with 
my only brother, Cecil Howard. We were British 
bom, but owing to my brother having made a large 
fortime in America, he eventually settled there, and 
when our parents died I joined him and kept house for 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



272 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

him. He was a delicate man, and required the care of 
one who really loved him. His was a wonderful nature, 
great, generous, large-hearted, and wide-minded, and I 
adored him. I found his house in Washington was 
the rendezvous of the intellectuals of the city, and a 
very delightful society was gathered around him. Mark 
Thorpe happened, by a mere chance, to be brought to 
our house one night, by one of Cecil's old friends. He 
was the rage at Washington at the time and extra- 
ordinarily attractive to women. As a new and charm- 
ing acquisition one met him everywhere and he re- 
turned all hospitality with a splendid lavishness which 
we believed to be justified by his means. A more 
plausible adventurer, a more consummate impostor, 
does not exist in history. 

"It was true that he came of ancient stock, and was 
owner of a fine old property, but he had squandered 
the greater part of his means, and was already living 
on his wits, though none suspected this at the time of 
which I speak. We learned after that he was obliged 
to leave England, because of several actions whidi 
brought him into conflict with the law. 

"I believe he could easily have married one or other 
of our great American heiresses, but he professed to 
care for me and we became engaged." 

She paused in her narrative, as Warburton uttered 
an involuntary exclamation of astonishment. So ex- 
traordinary a statement did not seem plausible in view 
of what he already knew. 

A sad little smile flitted over her face as she pro- 
ceeded. 

"It may seem hard to believe, yet for a time I was 
very happy. I really cared for Mark Thorpe, and 
immensely admired his bright intelligence and quick 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD^S REWARD 273 

responsiveness. He found it easy to make any woman 
love him. Then came the first shock. I received an 
anonymous letter, warning me that he was paying de- 
voted attention to the beautiful young actress, Hilda 
Lambert, the name under which she played. I said 
nothing of this to Mark, but I had him watched. The 
warning was confirmed. A day or two afterwards I 
received a letter from him, telling me that he had been 
secretly married to Hilda Davenant. 

"When I told my brother of all this I was shocked 
at the effect it had upon him, and all my own troubles 
instantly became merged in his. It turned out that 
he was madly in Idve with Hilda, and had believed that 
his love was returned. He had hoped to make her his 
wife." 

A quiver of deep emotion crossed her face. She 
stopped speaking for a moment, and her whole attitude 
was exhausted and drooping. Warburton was listen- 
ing intently, absorbed in the story she told. 

"A great and terrible ordeal, but you rose tri- 
umphant over it," he said gravely. 

"Yes, over my own wounds; but, ah! how I suf- 
fered !" she continued calmly. "Time passed on, 2(!nd 
rumor became busy with the affairs of Mr. and Mrs. 
Thorpe. It was said that he treated her abominably, 
and that he was penniless. With broken health she 
was forced to work hard for a living. Divorce was 
suggested, but he contrived to evade it. After dghteen 
months came the climax. Mark Thorpe forged my 
brother's name for a large amount. He was tried and 
sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Hilda Lambert 
was left ruined and very lU. 

"It was then that Cecil asked me to go to her, and 
see what could be done to aid her. You see, he loved 



Digitized by 



Google 



274 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

her still, and could not be happy whilst she was miser- 
able. I consented at once. Though she had taken my 
lover from me I bore her no enmity, and were we not 
fellow sufferers? hers being far the deeper wound. 

"I found her alone and quite broken. Her hus- 
band's behavior had estranged all their friends, and 
she had just given birth to a dead child. She was 
still lovely, but worn to a shadow. Our meeting was 
a strange one, and she began by demonstrating how 
she had been punished for her actions. The great 
fault in her character was thoughtless impulsiveness, 
and liability to be carried away on the wings of skillful 
argument. She had never ceased to regret her mar- 
riage, which she had rushed into, in a fit of pique 
against some fancied slight put upon her by my 
brother. Now she realized all she had lost in playing 
him false. We talked long and openly, and die told 
me how utterly weak she had been in Thorpe's hands. 
She was carried away by his singular charm and 
magnetic personality, but he tired of her at once, and 
she became hopeless and wretched. When she spoke 
of divorce he terrorized her. 

"Gradually they sank into very low water, and 
when at last the law laid hold of him they were at 
their wits' end. 

"On returning home I told Cecil all the details of 
our interview. He was deeply moved, and that night 
he asked if I would consent to her coming with us to 
our villa in the Adirondacks, where we proposed going 
the following week. He argued that we were now her 
only friends, and, if deserted by us, there could be but 
one end for her in her changed circimistances. He 
believed, from all he knew of Hilda, that there was a 
vast amount of good in her nature. In the days of her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S REWARD 275 

success she had been noted for her warm-hearted gen- 
erosity in helping poor and struggling artists. Final- 
ly, Cecil laid before me what amounted to a challenge. 
Dare we leave this soul to drift downwards, when it 
was so easy for us to lift her up? Again, I ac- 
quiesced at once. The unfortunate girl attracted me. 
I was intensely sorry for her, and I saw that upon 
this scheme my brother's happiness depended, though 
its dangers were at once apparent to me. 

"I shall never forget that long hot summer, and 
the perfect happiness of those two. It was plain to see 
that they worshiped one another, that they were in 
perfect accord, and made to be man and wife. Then 
came the time when Cecil opened his heart to me again, 
and told me that their love had been consummated. 
He had done his best to persuade her to seek a divorce, 
in order that they might be married, but she resolutely 
refused. She maintained that her past was too tar- 
nished to be linked openly with his, but she gave her- 
self willingly to him in secret. I was not surprised by 
those revelations — ^what else had I anticipated? Sub- 
consciously I had known how it must end, and his per- 
fect happiness obliterated any scruples I might have 
had against continuing to reside under his roof. With 
my full consent and approval Hilda agreed to remain 
with us, nominally as our guest, and I continued to be 
absolute mistress of my brother's house. I willingly 
condoned what is called sin, and countenanced what 
was, in all but the legal sense a most united marriage. 

"When we returned to Washington, Hilda was in- 
stalled in a small house near our large one, and their 
mutual adoration seemed to give my brother new life. 
Her nature was so sweet and sunny, so unselfish and 
devoted, that I grew to love her dearly, and look upon 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



276 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

her as a beloved friend. Beneath that rather worldly 
manner which she has latterly assumed as a defense, 
lies the wannest heart that ever breathed. She required 
some one to love and to help. Now that she herself is 
freed from worldly anxieties, Letty has filled the gap. 

"After two years of great happiness my brother 
died in her arms, of pneumonia. He divided his fortune 
between Hilda and me, and we elected to settle together 
in England. Then — ^nine years ago — came news from 
our Washington lawyer that Mark Thorpe had escaped 
from his prison, and had secreted himself on an English 
bound ship, which had foundered at sea with all hands. 

"At length, Hilda rejoiced in freedom, but it was 
short lived, for, as she told you this morning, a letter 
arrived which she had no reason to disbelieve was 
from her husband. It stated that he was still alive, 
having been picked up by a vessel bound for the Mau- 
ritius. Whilst being hauled on board his arm was 
crushed, and had to be amputated. Finally, as you 
know, he arrived in England. 

"Those were years of wretched uncertainty for us 
both. Though we had no knowledge of where Mark 
Thorpe lived he had discovered our whereabouts, and 
any hour he might have presented himself before us. 
Instinctively, I knew that even after suffering as she 
had, Hilda would never have had the heart to return 
him to prison, and I fully anticipated long years of 
blackmail. Up to now, it has remained an absolute 
mystery to me why he never wrote again or asked for 
assistance." She paused a moment, and then added, 
softly, "All this must seem very terrible to you, and 
doubtless you think I have acted very wrongly." 

Her lips quivered and her voice trembled, but her 
eyes met his resolutely, fearlessly. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S REWARD 277 

"No/' he answered her very gently. "I only think 
that your actions have been marvelously human, in the 
highest sense of the word. You lost yourself in your 
love for others. Tell me. How came you to settle 
here? You must have known of its proximity to the 
Lake House." 

"Certainly we did. In searching for a country home 
we heard of Little Glentworth, and Hilda determined 
to go and see it. Because of its nearness to the place 
she had an actual claim upon she decided to live here. 
She argued that it was always better to face the worst, 
and be prepared for it, and if Mark Thorpe was to 
turn up again she would know it at once, for surely it 
would be to the Lake House he would come. I be- 
lieved, on the contrary, that this would be the last place 
in which he would show himself, so I readily fell in 
with her plans. We knew that Geoffrey Thorpe was 
in possession, and we had no desire to depose him. We 
concluded that, either he did not know of Mark's es- 
cape, or he simply went on holding the Lake House 
till its rightful owner claimed it. It was not to our 
interest to make any public or private inquiries. Lat- 
terly, Hilda developed an extraordinary attraction for 
the place, and would visit the lake in secret on frequent 
occasions. She told me she felt strongly that the cul- 
mination of her life's tragedy would be worked out 
there. She had nothing to go on. She simply felt con- 
vinced that something was going to happen there which 
would bring matters to a head, and clear up her life. 
She was quietly sitting there by the lake when the 
sound of running feet startled her. In another mo- 
ment or two her husband stood before her — ^terribly 
altered, but recognizable. Before they could speak he 
was off again, tearing away for life and freedom, and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



278 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

hotly pursued by his gaoler. Crouched in the shadows 
of the summer house she heard the conflict, without 
understanding its import. She was so terrified that 
Mark Thorpe would return and kill her that she failed 
to see the old man pass. She thought his footsteps 
were those of Mark returning. She first saw Geoffrey 
Thorpe after he had committed his crime, and when 
he stood before her, streaming with water, he answered 
her question by confession." 

"He also made a confession during the night to 
Letty. There is also a written confession now in 
Harry's possession. He wishes Mrs. Davenant to come 
with me and Letty to-morrow to the Lake House to 
hear it read. Will she come ?" asked Warburton. 

"I am certain that she will. She has the right to 
know what her husband's fate has been during the last 
few years, and there is still the horrible fact to be faced 
that his body lies at the bottom of the lake. We hope 
and pray that the tragedy will not have to be made 
public, but right and justice must be done. Tell me 
about poor Letty. How is she?" 

"Wonderfully calm, and now, I hope, sound asleep. 
Harry wishes me to marry them immediately. Mean- 
while, she will remain with us and be married from 
the Vicarage." He rose. "It grows late," he said. 
"There is nothing more need be said to-night. We will 
meet again to-morrow. Will you express to Mrs. 
Davenant my warmest sympathy, and assure her I am 
absolutely hers to command. Now ^" 

He broke off suddenly, and as she rose and came to 
his side her face paled instinctively, at a sudden 
strangeness in his voice. She was still in doubt as to 
how her story had affected him. 

"I will give Hilda your message, but what message 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



AGNES HOWARD'S REWARD 279 

do you leave with me?" In her clear, honest eyes 
there was neither timidity or emotion, and he took 
both her hands in his. There was something in the 
grave dignity of his face she had never seen before; 
a new expression. There was love-making in every 
tone of his voice. 

"Why are you afraid, Agnes, that I should judge 
you harshly? Is it not enough that no action in your 
past has come from coldness of heart, from any scheme 
of selfishness, from any base motive? Do you re- 
member what d Kempis says of love, 'Nothing is 
sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, 
nothing more generous, nothing fuller and better in 
heaven or earth'? The past is past, and we should 
no more hinder the development of the future than 
the forest lets the shed leaves hinder the spring grass 
from growing." 

Neither knew how it came about, but for several 
minutes they clasped each other in silence. The so- 
lemnity of a great peace was upon them. She could 
hear the beating of his heart, and she thought how 
strange it was that each one of those deep pulsations 
meant love for her. Mysterious, inexplicable, sudden 
as it was, she knew that in that still embrace she had 
found rest for her soul. This was that one deep 
draught of life which she had waited for, through all 
the years of her early womanhood. To feel that she 
desired nothing so utterly as ^he desired this man's 
love, and to give him her soul and body in return, was ^ 
that measure pressed down and running over which ' 
Fate had at last given into her bosom. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XXIII 

GEOFFREY THORPE's CONFESSION* 

IN the old living-room of the Lake House sat the 
four persons most intimately connected with its 
tragedy — ^Letty and Harry, Hilda Davenant and War- 
burton. 

Though still a house of desith it was impossible not 
to feel that much of its gloom had already been lifted 
with the passing of the usurper who had contributed 
so liberally to its evil reputation. The knowledge that 
for generations the Thorpes had been a very bad 
lot had early in life inspired Harry with the determi- 
nation to amend this, and demonstrate to the world that 
a reformation had set in. Though much stem and un- 
pleasant work remained to be accomplished, there was 
something in his vigorous youth and uprightness which 
produced a powerful influence on his weary compan- 
ions. Besides, had not the wings of love touched them 
all in these latter days, lightening their burdens and 
flooding their souls with a new peace? 

Whilst the robins sang without, and the clear winter 
sunshine flooded the room, Hilda Davenant told her 
story, quietly, truthfully, withholding nothing, extenu- 
ating nothing, but dwelling with glowing words on 
that period of her life passed in perfect happiness with 
Cecil Howard, and the pure unselfish devotion of his 
sister, Agnes. Of her brief married life with Mark 

280 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



GEOFFREY THORPE'S CONFESSION 281 

Thorpe she said but little. Harry and Warburton were 
able to fill in details, in the light of their own knowl- 
edge, and the grand unselfishness of Agnes Howard's 
.actions threw an aura of sanctity over what was in so 
many respects a sordid story. 

Though Hilda had claims, as the widow of Mark 
Thorpe, upon the Lake House property, she rejected 
all idea of setting them forth. Her strong desire was 
to see Letty and Harry installed there, and to help in 
its renovation. "Let us combine to sweep away the 
cobwebs and evil traditions, and restore the old con- 
ditions of prosperity and well-being which formerly 
characterized the ancient home of the Thorpes," she 
said, "and, in accepting my help, you will provide me 
with the future I have lacked. It will give me a vivid 
interest in life to help you both, whom I have grown 
to love." 

Then Harry drew from its box the manuscript con- 
taining Geoffrey Thorpe's confession, and there was 
deep silence whilst its revelations were unfolded, and 
all doubt and fear banished by the light it threw upon 
the terrible past. "The paper is inscribed 'My Confes- 
sion,' It is signed 'Geoffrey Thorpe,' " announced 
Harry, and at once began to read in a low, quiet 
voice. 

"When I first inherited the Lake House property, 
on the supposed death of Mark Thorpe, ten years ago, 
I was just fifty-five years of age, I was by no means 
weary of life's amusements, and I continued to live 
my usual reckless, spendthrift existence. It was a 
pleasing novelty to me to be in possession of a fine 
property, and when Mark Thorpe went to prison the 
revenues had begun to accumulate once more, and I 
found myself the owner of a larger sum than I had 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



282 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

ever before handled. He left a will bequeathing every- 
thing to me, though I had heard he left a widow. She, 
I was given to understand, refused to have anything 
more to do with her husband, and had no desire to 
claim anything of his estate. I had enjoyed my in- 
heritance for a little over a year, when, on the night of 
September the fifth, nine years ago, I was seated at the 
dinner table with two old friends, one on either side 
of me. It was twilight, and I sat facing the unblinded 
window, smoking and drinking some excellent port. 
Suddenly my eye caught sight of a face, pressed close 
to the glass looking in on us — ^in another moment it 
had vanished. I said nothing to my guests of this, for 
I wondered if this vision was the result of my having 
drunk too much, but in a few moments I felt so 
alarmed and uncomfortable I could bear the inaction 
no longer. I made an excuse for leaving my friends, 
and slipped out into the night. 

"Peering about me I suddenly spied the figure of a 
man leaning against a tree, watching the house. Ad- 
vancing towards him I saw he was in rags, and un- 
shorn. His face had a lean, famished look, and one 
ragged sleeve was pinned to his shoulder — ^he had lost 
an arm. In spite of the tremendous change in him, 
and the years that had passed since last we met. I in- 
stantly knew that I was face to face with my cousin, 
Mark Thorpe, whom all the world believed to be dead. 
Though a mere wreck of his former self there was no 
mistaking the superlative good looks, that had helped 
to make easy his evil career. The fineness of his fea- 
tures, the brilliance of his dark eyes, the even row 
of white teeth, were still his possessions, though hard- 
ships had laid a heavy hand upon him. 'You've got 
guests, I see. Otherwise I would have come in and 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



GEOFFREY THORPE'S CONFESSION 283 

dined with you, for I'm starving and a fugitive/ he 
said c)mically. I knew that my face betrayed me, and 
rendered superfluous the question I put, but I was at 
bay. 

" 'Who are you?' I demanded roughly. He looked 
at me deliberately, and laughed sneeringly. 

"'Mark Thorpe, convict and owner of this prop- 
erty, as you know right well. I've still "time" to do, 
but I don't intend to be trapped. Hide me, and give 
me food and rest for a few days, and we'll come to 
some arrangement afterwards — I've not had a bed for 
weeks, and precious little grub.' 

"He seemed to be indifferent to, or not to realize 
the terrific shock his resurrection had upon me. Mer- 
cifully he could not read my thoughts. There was 
no time for consideration — for the moment no one was 
about, but panic invaded me. I took him to the front 
door, and peeped in first to see that all was clear. The 
only sound came from the dining-room, where my 
guests sat smoking and drinking. 

"We crept softly upstairs, and he was so weak from 
exposure and fasting that I had to assist him. I led 
him through the long gallery, and along a corridor in 
the left wing, which was a portion of the house unused. 
Half supporting his weak limbs, I drew him into a 
bedroom overlooking the copse, and shut the door 
softly behind us. As he sank down on the bed I caught 
sight of my livid face in a mirror, and wiped the sweat 
from my brow. I don't know why I brought him to 
that particular part of the house, but a voice kept whis- 
pering in my ear, and I obeyed its orders. The prop- 
erty belonged to this human wreck, tumbled in a heap 
of rags on the bed, but I was the real beggar. 

"Did any one know that he had escaped death from 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



284 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

drowning, and that he was at large in England ? From 
what he said in the garden I thought not. It never 
occurred to even me then to dispute his identity. I 
was so sure of who he was. Besides, to establish his 
claim would have meant his return to prison, and my 
having to surrender the property to the two old trus- 
tees who had handed it over to me when his will was 
proved, at his supposed death. 

"Whilst I stood thinking he had raised his head, 
and was looking round him. 'Why did you bring me 
to this gloomy hole?' he demanded. *Your guests are 
not so numerous as to fill the cheerful rooms. Whilst 
I lived here this wing was closed. I would not put 
a dog in a room barred like that' — ^he pointed to the 
stout iron staves that stood before the windows. *If I 
remember aright, all the rooms in this wing are barred. 
They remind me too much of what I have so lately 
escaped to be agreeable.' 

" 1 brought you here because, as you truly say, you 
are a fugitive,' I said *Do you wish my servants 
and guests to know of your arrival, and who you are ? 
In this wing you will be quite safe, and when you are 
strong again I will help you to go where you please. 
Rest and food is now what you require.' My argu- 
ment jumped to his reason, and he nodded acqui- 
escence. 

" 'Bring me food and a bottle of good wine. Then, 
for God's sake, let me sleep,' he implored. 

"I left him, feeling I could safely do so, as he was 
too weak to move, and crept downstairs again. It was 
Sunday night, and everything was very quiet in the 
house. In a few minutes I had settled my friends in 
the smoking-room with wine and cigars, and then, on 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



GEOFFREY THORPE'S CONFESSION 28s 

the plea of having an important letter to write, I left 
them again. 

"Stealthily I gathered together some food, and a 
bottle of port, and managed to convey them upstairs 
without meeting any one. Mark Thorpe had tumbled 
into bed, and thrown his rags in a heap on the floor. 
'I will bring you others to-morrow,' I promised, as 
I watched him eat and drink like a famished 
animal. 

"Meanwhile, in disjointed sentences he told me some 
of his adventures. Of his escape from prison with 
several others during a fire. Of his shipwreck, and 
his being picked up by a passing cargo boat bound 
for the Mauritius. In being hauled on board his arm 
was crushed, and afterwards amputated. Eventually, 
after desperate adventures and hairbreadth escapes, 
he made his way to England. I scarcely heeded his 
words : my thoughts were engrossed in the new forms 
taking shape in my brain. What did I care for his 
miraculous escapes? All that concerned me was the 
fact that he had turned up here alive — ^master of the 
Lake House, and in my power. All the while he talked 
he drank wine freely, and it rapidly began to tell upon 
him in his enfeebled state. Very soon his eyes began 
to close, and his head to droop, and he was in a 
drunken stupor. 

"I left him safely in bed, and locked him in. The 
room was too remote for any drunken ravings to be 
heard, and the window was well guarded. All that 
night I lay awake striving to think out the best plan 
of action, and look the crisis straight in the face. A 
net seemed to be closing round me, from which there 
was no escape. It seemed to me as if my will power 
had passed entirely from me into the hands of another. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



286 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

The mind of an unseen agent was spurring me on, and 
smoothing out a path for me. 

"In the morning my guests departed, and with 
thankfulness I saw them go, then, just as I was con- 
sidering how I could secretly convey some breakfast 
to my prisoner, Mrs. Greatrex, my housekeeper, en- 
tered with a tray, containing tea and bread and butter. 
I knew that my face had gone gray from pure, tm- 
adulterated fear, but I spoke carelessly. 'What is that 
for?' 

"The look on her face made me shiver. Tor your 
guest upstairs. I suppose you don't want any one to 
know he's there?' 

"'How do you know he's there?' I stammered. 

"A crooked smile crossed her face. 'I saw you 
smuggle him in, and heard most of what you said. I 
was coming home from church, and saw a man leaning 
against a tree. I took him for a tramp, and was just 
going to warn him off when I saw you come out of the 
house, and look about you. Then I hid in the bushes 
and listened. I'm willing to be silent if I'm well paid 
for it' 

" 'We'll talk together of this later,' I returned agi- 
tatedly, 'meanwhile, I'll take up the tray.' 

"The woman said nothing more, and left me. I 
crept cautiously upstairs, meeting no one, and entered 
the room which had already taken on a ghastly signifi- 
cance for me. Softly I unlocked the door, and entered. 
Mark Thorpe was tossing in wild delirium, and as I 
saw the flames of fever on his hollow cheeks, the ema- 
ciated frame, the skeleton fingers of his one hand, I 
told myself all was well. 'He will not live; I will do 
him no wrong; with me he will have every care, and 
this room is better than a convict's cell.' Suddenly he 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



GEOFFREY THORPE'S CONFESSION 287 

opened his eyes and seemed to stare at me, but there 
was no speculation in their wild appeal. I tried to in- 
duce him to, eat, but failed — ^he was too far gone. I 
saw clearly, as I sat there watching him, that I would 
require assistance, and I saw no other way of safely 
obtaining it than to enlist Mrs. Greatrex in the service, 
and pay her highly for silence. Probably I would have 
to acquaint her with the full facts. For seven weeks 
Mark Thorpe hovered between life and death — ^mean- 
while great changes had taken place in the house. All 
servants, except the housekeeper, had been dismissed, 
the reason given being my supposed illness. My habits 
were entirely altered, and I entered into the life of a re- 
cluse. The price I had shortly to pay for the silence 
and service of Sarah Greatrex was — ^making her my 
wife. During one agonizing day of anxiety we went to 
London, and were married at a registrar's office. 

"Time passed on, and Mark Thorpe began to re- 
cover, but there was still no possibility of his escape, he 
was so miserably weak. Then began that course of 
crime for which I hardly dare hope to be forgiven. I 
satisfied to the full his craving for drink, until he be- 
came a confirmed drunkard. At first, he demanded 
wine from the cellar as his own property, to use as he 
pleased, and I resisted for his own good, but he became 
violent when those demands were not satisfied to the 
full, and soon I yielded, telling myself *he will soon 
drink himself to death and all will yet be well.' 

"He spoke now hardly at all of his past, and of his 
wife never, beyond once admitting he had treated her 
brutally. There were times when his suspicions of 
me were wildly aroused, and he deeply resented being 
locked in; but I always endeavored to soothe him by 
the warning that he was an escaped convict, and that 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



288 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

here he was safe. 'If you leave me it will only be to 
go back to prison/ I told him, 'and only by revealing 
your identity can you get food and drink. Think what 
your life has been as a hunted fugitive/ 

'^Meanwhile I trusted to his drinking himself to 
death, and ending the misery of us both. 

"Often I drugged his liquor, and kept him for weeks 
in a sodden stupor. Always he appeared to grow 
weaker, and his mind began to give way. Before eight- 
een months of his captivity had passed he was quite 
insane. He was easier to manage after that condition 
was established. I kept him liberally supplied with 
drink, cards and chess — even with books, which he 
never read. The deed was done past recall. There 
was no going back, but there was now hardly any fear 
of detection. So sure was I of this that, when my 
sister asked me to give house room to my niece, Letty 
Thome, for a week or two, I welcomed even so slight 
a break in the dreadful monotony of my life. My wife 
strongly opposed Letty's coming, but the thought of 
seeing a new face in the midst of my grim solitude was 
not to be resisted, and when she arrived and accepted 
so quietly the habit of the house, I thanked God for 
the relief she afforded. When Harry Thorpe began to 
come about the house I instantly grew afraid. He 
was too wide awake to be safe, and I regret that I had 
to forbid his again setting foot on the property. He 
succeeds me as heir, and I am reconciled to the fact 
that he will marry Letty. I trust they may be happy, 
and that in the passage of time my crime may be for- 
given and forgotten, but it may come about that for a 
time I leave him a terrible legacy. My life may close 
before the life of my captive. Useless to dwell upon 
this possibility. I have left to Harry Thorpe all the 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



GEOFFREY THORPE'S CONFESSION 289 

accumulations of years, save a sum just sufficient to 
keep my wife in comfort, so long as she lives. 

"I humbly implore Harry Thorpe to bury my crime 
in my grave. I have defamed and disgraced the ancient 
name of Thorpe. I have suffered terribly for the sins 
I now have confessed, and to God's mercy I commend 
my soul. 

Geoffrey Thorpe." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XXIV 

MRS. DAVENANT DECIDES 

THE small world surrounding the Lake House had 
known too little of Geoffrey Thorpe to care very 
much whether he lived or died. Only Mrs. Hall's tri- 
umphant assertion, "Didn't I foretell his death before 
the New Year?" revived the flickering interest in his 
passing, the concensus of opinion being that Harry 
Thorpe's succession was an excellent thing for all and 
sundry. So useless a member of the community was 
better dead than alive, and a young couple would add 
considerably to the social amenities. 

Even the discovery of the dead body of a one-armed, 
drowned man in the lake proved but a transitory ex- 
citement. Clearly this was some wretched tramp, 
judging by his clothes and emaciation, and doubtless 
he had lost an arm in the war. Such countless men 
were now without an arm or a leg, and it was natural 
to Harry Thorpe's charming nature to give this name- 
less stranger a foot or two of ground, formerly sacred 
to the ashes of the Thorpe family. Life had been very 
cheap during the last five years, and there were such 
numberless derelicts drifting about the world, that this 
nameless corpse aroused no suspicion and but little 
interest. 

Only a few days after the burial of Geoffrey Thorpe 
his successor had discovered a dead man floating on 

290 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT DECIDES 291 

the surface of the water, and the unidentified remains 
had been reverently carried to the Lake House, where 
they remained until the coroner had held the futile in- 
quest. Events, even in a country parish, now march 
with such incredible swiftness, tfiat before one thrill 
could be really enjoyed another had superseded it. 
Popular interest was now entirely centered round the 
Vicarage, which was about to provide two weddings 
for the delectation of the neighborhood. 

Letty's approaching marriage had been somewhat 
cast into the shade by the public announcement that 
the vicar would shortly take to wife the stately and 
wealthy Agnes Howard. 

Letty was to be married from the Vicarage, and she 
remained there busily completing her simple outfit, 
whilst Harry resigned from his work in London and 
installed himself in his new home. 

Mrs. Geoffrey Thorpe had not waited for the fu- 
neral of her husband, but had departed the day after 
his death for an unknown destination. Only too thank- 
ful to escape punishment for her complicity in crime, 
she could be trusted to remain silent. Upon that day 
Letty, Harry and Warburton entered the left wing for 
the first time, and penetrated the room which for so 
many years had been Mark Thorpe's prison. The two 
men would gladly have spared the girl from the tragic 
ordeal, but Letty resolutely insisted on taking her place 
by Harry's side. She was well aware that much of 
the work of obliteration to be done there was woman's 
work, and there was but one woman to whom it could 
safely be entrusted. Until all evidence of Geoffrey 
Thorpe's crime had been removed no stranger could 
be admitted to work in the house, and meanwhile 
Harry had arranged to sleep at the Vicarage and, with 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



292 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

Lctty and Warburton, return to his property by 
day. 

The window of the prison still stood wide, and out- 
side it was one bar missing, which was safely retrieved 
from the ground below. The removal of all the bars 
was a task Harry felt must be carried out by himself, 
before the house was set in working order again. 
Luckily rust had done its insidious work, and the task 
would not be too hard, nor was there any pressing 
hurry for its accomplishment. For an hour or two the 
three worked at removing all traces of occupation, and 
the result was a bonfire in the yard. 

Geoffrey Thorpe had to a certain extent been mind- 
ful of his captive's bodily comforts, and the state of 
the room was less terrible than they had anticipated, 
but still there were abundant evidences of a life lived in 
brutal durance. The last flickering sparks of reason 
had been secretly employed in preparations for escape. 
Probably, had those preparations been continuous that 
escape would have been sooner attempted, but there 
must have been long periods during which no effort 
towards freedom was made. The door of stout oak 
was protected, not only by a lock and key, but by a 
chain and padlock, roughly, but very securely adjusted. 
Geoffrey Thorpe had reason to believe his prisoner was 
safe, but the cunning of insanity had supplemented the 
normal craving for freedom, and Mark Thorpe had 
undoubtedly feigned a weakness beyond reality, and 
so thrown his gaoler off guard. 

The efforts of Letty and Harry were next directed 
towards preparing a few roc«ns for their immediate 
use. Carpets were taken up and floors cleaned, and 
the beautiful old furniture re-arranged. Only by slow 
stages could the Lake House be restored to its pristine 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT DECIDES 293 

glories, but that would be a labor of love to its active 
young owners. 

In those days of preparation Hilda Davenant took 
an enthusiastic part. She constantly motored over to 
help in the laborious work of selecting what was value- 
less from the accumulation of letters and documents 
overflowing drawers and old dower chests. There 
were days spent in lumber rooms, which appeared not 
to have been entered for a hundred years, and huge 
cupboards to be overhauled, which were crammed 
with china and grand old silver, black with neg- 
lect. 

Often, Harry and Letty whispered together of this 
strange turn of destiny's wheel, which had brought 
into active co-partnership Hilda Davenant. All this 
hidden away and forgotten wealth had, but a few 
weeks previously belonged to her husband. Even the 
reckless Mark Thorpe had once accepted the words 
"with all my worldly goods I thee endow," and Letty 
could not free herself from the feeling that she was 
really dealing with Hilda's property. 

That lady had, however, no thoughts of possession 
in her mind, though very often, when discovering a 
piece of silver or china of great value, she had remem- 
bered her husband's constant lament that there was 
"nothing left of any value in the ramshackle old 
place." 

Undoubtedly he had believed this, for a bachelor on 
inheriting a property rarely concerns himself with the 
worker's portion of the house. His own special quar- 
ters, and the pictures interest him, and possibly some 
obviously valuable pieces of furniture, but he leaves 
garrets and lumber rooms to the spiders and rats, and 
so misses much that is worth reclaiming. Mark had 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



294 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

raised money at various times by selling pictures by 
painters who at that period were the rage, but luckily 
his ignorance of art and what the house really con- 
tained, had saved very much for his successors. All 
he had really been interested in was the rent roll, and 
when that had failed to satisfy his reckless extrava- 
gance, he had heavily mortgaged the property. Much 
of this burden had been paid off by Geoffrey Thorpe 
during his years of seclusion, and Mrs. Davenant's mu- 
nificent wedding gift was to be the total redemption 
of the existing debt. 

In those days, passed amid the dusty treasures of 
the Lake House, Hilda regained much of her old 
gayety of spirits and buoyancy of mind. She was free 
at last, and in the presence of the lovers, who knew the 
secret of how lately she had been widowed, she had no 
need to assume a sorrow she did not feel. The sadness 
that would formerly have been inseparable from the 
loss of Agnes Howard as her devoted daily companion, 
was now eased by the fresh interests in her life which 
revolved so closely round Letty and Harry. She could 
look forward to the marriage of Agnes with equanim- 
ity, for there would really be no parting. The Vicar- 
age lay but a stone's throw from Little Glentworth. 
Little Glentworth ! When she thought of the Dower 
House her mind inevitably turned to Qaude Carlton. 
He was home again on Christmas leave, and had called 
twice, but she had avoided seeing him. What was to 
be the end of that budding romance? 

Mrs. Davenant had quite decided that she would 
never marry a second time. She had told her life's 
story for the last time, and to re-marry with a secret 
hidden in her heart never even occurred to her. 

The recent tragedy had brought to mind so many 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT DECIDES 295 

things that in the course of years had become vague 
and misty. That one glimpse of her husband's face had 
rushed back to memory his callous brutality, and the 
insults he perpetually had heaped upon her. The poig- 
nant agony she had suffered when he had gone to 
prison, leaving her friendless, penniless, and alone with 
her dead child, surged back upon her with the fresh- 
ness of but yesterday. It required all her strength of 
mind to thrust those memories back again into their 
grim post, and to shut the door of life upon them for- 
ever. At last she was free and at peace, and only if 
she remained free could she forget. To marry again 
would be but to perpetuate the misery. 

She told herself that the true ethical philosophy 
was to bring into the lives of others some, at least, of 
the ideal joy that for so short a time had been hers. 
Thus she strove, as much as was within her power, fo 
take the place of parents to Letty and Harry. How 
often in her life she had thought, if all the world wa5 
simply kind, what a paradise it might be, and she took 
the keenest pleasure in carrying out the gift she 
so often had failed to receive from the hands of 
others. 

Her nature was essentially hopeful and courageous, 
and experiences which would have embittered others 
only wrought in her new strength and sweetness. 
There had been a time, not so long ago, when she had 
thought very regretfully of her inability to accept 
Carlton's manifest intentions. Now that she was cer- 
tain of her freedom, the tragic circumstances that 
had brought it about seemed to have robbed it of its 
value. Legally free she still would be fettered by 
that past, which was so blended with sordid 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



296 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

misery, unconventional happiness, and sensational 
crime. 

"Mine is a story which can never be told again, and 
the proof of that is what you and I are about to do 
to-night, Agnes," she said, as the two women sat alone 
over the tea cups by the warm fireside, on the night 
of the Great Glentworth ball. "So entirely am I di- 
vorced from my past that ten days after Mark 
Thorpe's burial I am going to put on my best white 
satin frock, and all my jewels, and endeavor to enjoy 
myself thoroughly. Is that not the answer to your 
question — 'will I eventually marry Claude Carlton'? 
So long as I am free I can snap my fingers at the world, 
but no sooner were I bound by re-marriage than my 
life would become a martyrdom of fear, lest the world 
should hit upon my past and injure my husband. Ca- 
lumny can do nothing to me, but it could render mis- 
erable a life tied to mine." 

"I know you are right and wise, Hilda, but I hate 
having to confess it," replied Agnes regretfully. "I 
had hoped that some day you would be free to marry 
a man you cared for. I feel appallingly selfish in 
leaving you, but ^" 

"Yes! there's a big but," returned Hilda tranquil- 
ly. "Fm convinced I'm wise to shelter behind it 
I'm not the sort of woman Claude Carlton ought to 
marry. My past will always stream out behind me like 
a comet's tail, and I'd never be able to suppress it. It's 
too interwoven with the secret of the Lake House to be 
given away again. I have those others to think of, 
Letty and Harry. No, I prefer to be regarded as a 
mystery rather than as a scandal. Besides, I'm years 
older than Claude Carlton, and the perpetual conflict 
with that disparity is more than I fancy undertaking. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



MRS. DAVENANT DECIDES 297 

There's nothing so hard for a woman as to look young- 
er than her face, and I hope I may never live to be 
called 'well preserved.' You've got no wrinkles be- 
cause you've never had a husband. The two are in- 
separable. Think of it ! Just as Claude arrived at the 
prime of life I would be well on into the sere and yel- 
low. What an appalling struggle that would entail, 
oh ! the utter weariness of attempting not to look like 
his mother. Picture to yourself our social career in 
ten years' time, when Claude would be only forty, and 
I would be — ah! well! we'll say considerably older. 
When we had a house party with no one over forty, 
and I, feeling age in all my bones, being obliged to get 
into my best corsets, my smartest wig and my latest 
dream of a frock from Paris, instead of a comfy tea 
gown and a boudoir cap ! Think of the hours I should 
have to spend in my chemical laboratory filling in the 
wrinkles, and laying on the rouge, and after all my la- 
bors catching the aside of some naughty young minx, 
'Poor old thing, how tired she looks. Why doesn't 
she go to bed and leave us?' No, my dear, I've seen 
it too often to try it on myself. It's not good 
enough." 

Agnes laughed. She loved to hear Hilda return to 
her whimsical moods of gentle cynicism. 

"You're a woman who will never have any age, 
Hilda. Men will be more or less in love with you when 
you're ninety. When beauty departs you can always 
remain a good pal." 

Hilda made a little grimace as she lit a cigarette. 

"The woman who has once been a charmer does 
well to avoid being only a comrade. There comes a 
time in every woman's life when she wishes to be 
treated as a reasonable human being, and possess her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



298 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS, DAVENANT 

bedroom as a secret retreat unto herself. I mean to 
be free to do my hair with a fork, if it pleases me, and 
go to bed at nine o'clock without having to lock my 
door. Makers of epigrams wouldn't acknowledge it, 
but there are women who were beauties in their youth 
and only ask fo^ a plain dd age." 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



CHAPTER XXV 
"good-by, sweetheart, good-by*' 

MRS. CARLTON was standing at the top of the 
staircase, welcoming, one after another, the 
county magnates and the smaller fry, with the same 
indiscriminate friendliness. 

The women had come in all the glory of new frocks, 
which happier times had justified them in ordering, 
and the old family jewels, which for five years had lain 
in the cellars of banks, had been taken out and cleaned 
for the occasion. 

Many of the men wore "pink" and thanked God 
they had done with khaki. 

Mrs. Carlton looked like no one else but herself, 
in the severity of her red velvet, her close-cropped iron- 
gray hair, and the single monocle screwed into one 
shrewd dark eye, but she had conformed to the im- 
portance of the evening by strewing a few fine dia- 
monds amongst the laces at the throat of her long 
redingote. 

The small dance had devdoped into quite a big ball, 
as every one within motoring distance had decided to 
emerge from the rust of war, and treat the invitation 
as a command; thereby doing honor to a family of old 
standing whom all liked. 

Mrs. Carlton, with her extremely liberal views and 
independent nature, was an excellent hostess, possess- 

299 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



300 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

ing that thoroughbred ease which disarms the most 
critical assembly. She had the knack of saying those 
few words of polite conventionality in a way which 
made her guests feel welcome, yet which ensured their 
making way for the pressure from below, as carriages 
and motors deposited their loads at the wide-flung 
doors. 

By her side stood her son, well pleased with this 
splendid function, which had been of his ordering. He 
lodked upon the whole affair as a duty he owed to the 
county, in their desire for some diversion amid the 
monotony of country life, and the severe restrictions 
and sorrows of the past. In a couple of days another 
ball, no less well provided, was to be given to the em- 
ployees on the estate. 

The great house was brilliant with light and color, 
and sweet with flower perfume. From the great draw- 
ing-room, never used but on such rare occasions, came 
waves of music, and through the great staircase win- 
dow shone glimpses of the gardens lying bathed in 
cold, pure moonlight. 

"A charming sight," remarked Lord Lester to War- 
burton, as they lounged against a balustrade, quizzing 
the various parties who mounted the stairs, watching 
the varied Mendings of colors, the varied expression 
of faces, the glitter of jewels against the stately back- 
ground of tapestry and pictures. "Is your sister not 
here to-night ?" he asked the vicar, after congratulating 
him warmly on his engagement. 

"No, she didn't care to come. She never dances, 
and she's very occupied with Miss Thome and her 
approaching marriage." 

"Ah! of course! What a change for the Lake 
House ! A charming young couple who will be a great 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



"GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 3Q1 

acquisition to the neighborhood, I hear/' returned Les- 
ter, genially. "I can't help being rather sorry for the 
beautiful Mrs. Davenant." 

"You needn't," laughed Warburton. 

Lester twinkled slyly. "Ah ! you think she'll catch 
the. prevailing epidemic and marry also." 

"I am quite certain she won't," answered the vicar, 
with conviction. 

Lester said no more. He was longing to stroll about 
the rooms and gossip with old acquaintances, but like 
Warburton, there was one woman whom he wished 
to see arrive. 

There was another who watched eagerly for that 
coming, Claude Carlton. Hilda Davenant was late, 
considering it was a country affair, he thought impa- 
tiently, as a clock chimed ten o'clock, and the stream 
of new comers had very perceptibly thinned. 

"I think we may leave our post now, every one 
seems to have arrived," said his mother. 

The strains of music came floating out to them. 
It was on the tip of his tongue to remind her that the 
Dower House ladies had still to be accounted for, but 
he checked himself before the words passed his lips, 
and together they moved into the drawing-room. 
Dancing was in full swing, the house party had lost no 
time in getting to work, but he hesitated to dance him- 
self. A nervous irritation possessed him. Hilda had 
answered his letters, but had evaded seeing him since 
his return. He was quite sure of his own mind, but 
not of hers. His chances were enormously improved 
by Miss Howard's engagement To-night he would 
put his fate to the test. It would be easy to make an 
opportunity. 

He stood watching the brilliant Saidie Hall jazzing 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



302 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

energetically. He admired the perfect figure in its 
glittering yellow sheath. Diamonds crowned her dark 
hair, and vied with the sparkling luster of her eyes. 

"Here comes the beautiful Mrs. Davenant/' said 
a strange voice behind him, and he wheeled round. 

Hilda was entering with Lester by her side, in ani- 
mated conversation. They were followed by Agnes 
Howard and Warburton. Mrs. Carlton had caught 
sight of them, and the women were greeting each other 
with the greatest cordiality, whilst several men hovered 
in the background, eager to petition for a dance. 

Warburton and Agnes, directly she had sliaken 
hands with her hostess, joined the dancing throng, and 
Carlton found himself standing before Mrs. Davenant, 
her hands in his. 

"I thought you'd never arrive," were the first words 
he found to say to her. "Are you going to dance with 
me?" 

"I hope so." Her lovely, laughing eyes met hia 
To-night she was the incarnation of gayety. 

Lester moved away. He had heard the words, but 
the look which accompanied them was far more sig- 
nificant. "Poor Claude! He's pretty far gone. Got 
it badly! How will it end? I think I know enough 
now to check an3^hing so rash as marriage," he said 
to himself, as he made his way to the side of the Lord 
Lieutenant's wife, who was a distant relation. 

"Let us start dancing right away," suggested Carl- 
ton, but even as he spoke the music came to an end, and 
the crowd began to thin at once, as the dancers 
streamed out into the cool corridors. He drew her 
arm through his and whispered, "Give me at least 
half a dozen dances." Various claimants were now 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



"GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 303 

surging up, and there had been no time to lose. They 
would dance the next together. 

Pushing their way through the chattering groups 
he drew her along the corridor, where they would at 
least be out of ear-shot. 

"Now," he demanded, "I want you to tell me hon- 
estly why you've never let me see you once, though 
Fve been home for a whole week?'* 

She smiled back at him whimsically, perfectly pre- 
pared for the attack. 

"Honesty's a wretched virtue, Major Carlton. One 
never calls a woman honest who has any manners. 
We reserve the epithet for those of whom we have 
nothing good to say. Still, I like to be truthful. I had 
other things of more importance to do." 

"Things that you liked better?" he insisted. 

"Things that I disliked extremely." 

"I want you always to be honest with me," he said, 
with a sudden gravity. 

She maintained her smiling attitude of frivolity. 
"I wonder? Do you realize the misery it would cause 
if every one made it a virtue to parade themselves be- 
fore their neighbor's horrified eyes in their true col- 
ors ? Are any of us perfect enough to invite the world 
to look upon us as we really are? Supposing you 
told every woman you met what you really thought 
of her clothes and her complexion?" 

"And supposing you told me what onerous duties 
prevented you from seeing me when I called," he re- 
torted, laughing in spite of his serious mood. 

"You wouldn't believe me if I did," she returned 
primly. "Now let us cease sparring and begin to 
dance." 

They returned to the ball-room, and many pairs of 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



304 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

eyes followed them. The women were interested in 
Mrs. Davenant's fine jewels ; the men were interested 
in her great beauty and grace. She valsed with all her 
heart. As a young actress she had trained indefati- 
gably, now the pure delight of movement returned 
to her, as she glided round to the rhythm of a first- 
rate band. Her partner was all that tiie best of danc- 
ers could possibly desire, and she uttered an expression 
of genuine regret when the music ceased. 

'That was heavenly, and how well you dance! I 
shall look forward to perhaps one more turn later on ; 
but it is your solemn duty to dance with no woman 
twice to-night, out of the many who are your guests." 

"Solemn duty be damned!" thought Carlton as he 
surrendered her to her next partner. If she imagined 
he would be thwarted by conventional rot of that sort 
she was much mistaken. 

The crowd on the floor was great now, and after a 
few turns with Mrs. Hall they paused to take breath. 
A few elderly women sat at one end of the room near 
their hostess, but every man under eighty was dancing 
with the zest of twenty. 

"How times have changed!" laughed Carlton. 
*'Why, before nineteen-fourteen all these old busters 
would have been chaffed off the floor; but now their 
energy seems quite natural." 

Saidie's eyes were following Hilda and a young 
diplomat, who was one of the house party. The music 
had glided into the hesitation valse, and many couples 
drew to the side to watch the few who were equal to 
the new movement. Mrs. Davenant and her partner 
were perfectly matched, and their dancing was some- 
thing more than a drawing-room performance. 

"I've never seen her look so beautiful, and where 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



''GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 305 

on earth did she leam to dance like that?" burst out 
Mrs. Hall, in a spasm of admiration. "Her jewels 
must be worth a big fortune. The late lamented Mr. 
D. must have been worth a mighty pile of dollars. 
They say Miss Howard has ten thousand a year. I 
wonder where it came from." 

"Better ask Warburton," retorted Claude crossly, 
"ril wager it comes from no tainted source. The 
vicar isn't the man to share ill-gotten gains." 

After supper, as the ball wore on to a close, Carlton 
began to weary of it. He had only succeeded in danc- 
ing twice with Hilda, despite all his efforts, and repeat- 
edly he had been balked of sitting out with her. 
Whenever he approached it was only to find her sur- 
rounded, or sitting in a comer engrossed in conversa- 
tion it would be impossible to interrupt. In despair 
he ordered the band to announce an extra, and at once 
began to search for her. 

He had not far to seek. She was with the Master 
in one of the small sitting-out rooms, and he proffered 
his request and bid Captain Hall be gone, with the 
unceremoniousness of old friendship. When they were 
alone he made no movement to return to the ball-room, 
but threw himself down on the sofa by her side. 

The beating of her heart quickened. All evening 
she had told herself these were her last hours of hap- 
piness and youth. When she had parted from Claude 
Carlton she would have said good-by to all the lighter 
side of life. She would have had her last love affair, 
and her feet would be set upon the path leading to 
sober middle age. A turning point in her destiny was 
before her. There was no escape, and she braced her- 
self to meet it. 

"Life's a queer thing," he was saying seriously. 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



3o6 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

"I thought I'd enjoy this dance awfully, and now it's 
abnost over I'm happier now than I've been all night." 

His eyes were looking straight into hers, and she 
had some difficulty in dissimulating the effect his words 
had on her. 

"The truth is, I'm never happy away from you, 
Hilda. I've loved you from the first moment your 
voice fell upon my ears, though at first I didn't r^ize 
what had happened to me. There's but one thing in 
my life now, and that's my love for you. That's mad- 
ness if you like. I'd have said so too, before I met 
you. Mine is a tale you must often have heard before. 
So lovely a woman as you are doesn't go through life 
without having crowds of men at her feet. Now! 
What are you going to say to me in reply?" 

As she listened all the brightness and warmth went 
out of her face, and her lips parted, as if to draw breath 
was oppressive. His words vibrated with intense ear- 
nestness. They pierced her as no other words of sup- 
plication had ever done. She had expected this inter- 
view, known it must come, yet how much harder it 
was than she had anticipated. 

"You give me great pain. All I can trust is that 
your love for me is of such sudden birth that it will die 
as rapidly." 

He interrupted her brusquely. 

"You mean that you give me no hope?" 

She looked straight into his eyes. She was too truth- 
ful to conceal from him that, under other conditions 
she might have allowed her heart to go out to him 
with a softer impulse than mere friendship. 

"It is terrible that through me you should suffer. 
Do not think me without feeling, without sympa- 
thy '' 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



"GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 307 

"These are not love/' he broke in again. 

"I cannot give you love, because there is that in my 
life that forbids it. There is no more to be said." 

So greatly did she desire his deliverance that she 
could no longer speak cahnly. There was a ring al- 
most of passion in her voice. 

"I'm ready to swear there is nothing in your life that 
you need be ashamed of." 

It was not an interrogation, but an affirmation. 

"Think me guilty or guiltless, as you will. I can- 
not answer you," was the quiet reply. 

"You are innocent enough, whatever circumstances 
may have arrayed against you, whatever shadow of 
evil may have fallen on you. Is it not so?" 

There was not a single intonation of doubt in his 
voice, and in a sudden wild impulse she stretched out 
her hand to him with a gesture of simple eloquence. 

"I have done what the world would utterly con- 
demn, though I have no shadow of regret ; but my life 
has been such that any man linked with it now would 
inevitably suffer. There must have been many occa- 
sions in which you have heard me referred to as a 
woman with a past. By that people mean something 
secret and hidden. The world speaks truly for once. 
In my past there is that which always must be hidden. 
People wonder why I have never re-married, and whis- 
per there must be a reason which forbids it. They 
are right. If I wished to marry again I could not do 
so honorably, therefore I shall remain widowed to the 
end of my life." 

"I should never care what the world said of you. 
You would be my wife, and I have love enough to 
suffice for us both." 

The word "widowed" sprang up like a flame of light 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



3o8 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

in his heart. Secretly, he had always dreaded that 
her husband still lived, but the flame of hope died down 
as he saw the settled melancholy in her face. 

**In common honor I can never become any man's 
wife, because there is a secret in which other innocent 
persons are involved. A secret I can confide to no 
one, not even to you, who love me so well that you 
trust me.'* 

Her head drooped, and tears gathered in her eyes. 
In that moment all the regrets in her life seemed to 
pass. She had at least his faith. Would this faith 
live on, without one sign to show she deserved it? 

He listened to her silently, meditatively. 

Most men of the world would have tiiought that 
guilt certainly spoke in her confession, though in their 
infatuation they might not have greatly cared; but 
Carlton did not so thiidc. His sympathies were too 
wide and true. 

"I listen to you, Hilda," he answered gently; "but 
I do not believe you, even against yourself." All the 
courage within him rose in revolt, to fling off even the 
shadow of actual sin upon the woman he loved. His 
eyes met hers without wavering. 

"I do not ask to share your secret. You say it 
concerns others. Then, what is it to me? I trust you 
absolutely. Will you not trust me?" 

"I cannot accept so great a sacrifice. It is very no- 
ble, but how could we live as man and wife with this 
great gulf between us, which I should always try to 
prevent your bridging? Let us speak no more of this. 
What can it avail, except to make you suffer greater 
things?" 

A bitter exclamation broke from him. "Yours 
are noble words; but it is so easy to utter them, so 



Digitized by 



Google 



"GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 309 

hard to follow them. If you cared for me," he went 
on stormily, "you would know that there is not one 
thought in me that does not honor you. If you cared 
you would not bid me forget my love for you." 

"Those are wild, unconsidered words," she rebuked 
him, gravely. "What good can they serve? As your 
friend " 

"Friendship is as cruel as hate," he vehemently re- 
torted. "It's the worst cruelty — ^when I ask for bread 
you offer me a stone." 

There was sharp suffering in his voice, and she was 
moved and shaken by the despairing hopelessness that 
rang in it. 

"You only pain and wound me," she said very gen- 
tly, "and I can hardly tell how to answer you. My 
life has been a very sad and complicated one, and I 
have suffered terribly. Only latterly have I known 
any real peace of mind. But nothing can ever alter 
the past — ^it is irrevocable." 

She spoke calmly, unfalteringly, but with a firm re- 
solve. "Do you not believe that if I could speak with 
honor I would reward your faith by telling you 
all?" 

A flush passed over his face. He tmderstood her. 

"But," he urged, with sudden gentleness. "May 
it not be that you over-rate the obligations of honor? 
I know that many a noble-hearted woman has inex- 
orably condemned herself to a severity of rule that a 
wide-minded judge of life would deem exaggerated, 
' unnecessary. May this not be so with you?" 

His voice shook over the last words. He could not 
think with calmness of the destiny he was bidden to 
accept. He had believed that if only she were free 
he could rouse her heart and make her love hinu He 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



3IO THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

knew now that she was a widow, and his greatest fear 
was banished. 

"Hear me," he entreated softly. **Is it not possible 
that you exaggerate the abnegation required of you? 
Yours is magnificent magnanimity, but it may surely 
be false justice to yourself and to me.*' 

"It is stem justice, but absolute," she answered him. 
"What is done is done. I cannot redeem the past by 
adding dishonor to it." 

The baffled sense of impotence, against a wall of im- 
movable calamity, came over him. He had alwa)^ 
been used to have his way with women, to see obstacles 
disappear, difficulties crumble. His good looks, his 
wealth and position, his easy charm had made life very 
simple for him. He had been tried by no sorrow, and 
till now had never known a woman whom he desired 
to make his wife. The sense that here was a tragedy 
whose meaning he could not fathom, that there was 
here a fate he could not change, brought a wholly un- 
familiar sense of weakness, that could not be altered 
by his will. It came to him that this woman who owned 
such great beauty, who bore such a serene habit be- 
neath the world's harshest stings, would not have re- 
jected his love unless compelled by a destiny from 
which there was no escape. 

A long silence fell between them. Where she lay 
back amongst the cushions her face was in shadow, 
whilst he sat by her side motionless, his head bent upon 
his breast. She watched him many moments, he, un- 
conscious of her gaze, and whilst she did so, many con- ' 
flicting emotions passed over the pale delicacy of her 
features. Her eyes were filled and shadowed by re- 
trospection. She was quite unshaken in her resolve. 
Not even Agnes Howard realized how firm was her 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



"GOOD-BY, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BY" 311 

determination to do him no wrong. The woman who 
had been the mistress of another for two years, and 
who had accepted a fortune at his death, whose hus- 
band had been a felon, and who held the secret of the 
Lake House locked in her breast, was no wife for the 
young owner of Great Glentworth. "I took my life in 
my own hands and defied the world. Love and Cecil 
Howard were what I deliberately chose. I must abide 
the consequences. One cannot have it both wasrs," 
she told herself, when she thought of what might have 
been, with a bitter-sweet regret. She was a woman 
still young. She had the ardor of youth still in her 
veins, and the desolation of abandoned youth in her 
heart. Honor looked cold beside love. 

The muffled rumble of homeward bound motors rose 
up from the frozen moonlit roads. His guests were 
going home, and Claude was not there to bid them 
good-by. He had forgotten their existence. A clock 
struck three and she rose. 

*T*m going home now. I am very tired," she said. 
Her voice faltered for a moment, then she recovered 
herself. "You say my offer of friendship is crud; 
but at least it will be faithful to you. I believe in you, 
as you believe in me, and that is the highest trust that 
one human being can show to another. And now — 
good-by." 

He took her hands in his and held them against his 
breast, whilst he looked down into the pathos of the 
beautiful eyes raised to his. 

"Ah ! don't think me indifferent, even to what seems 
to me so cold, Hilda," he whispered. "I believe in 
your innocence, as firmly as though you substantiated 
it with a thousand proofs. I reverence your devotion 
to honor. If I could not at least say that I would be 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



312 THE BEAUTIFUL MRS. DAVENANT 

unfit id live. So this is good-by to love, and good-by 
to you — for a time ; butf my darling, when I am able 
— I will claim the friendship you offer — ^but not now — 
it is impossible/* 

In a long silence they looked into each other's eyes, 
and he knew at last what their parting was costing her. 
The suffering was not only his. 

"For the first and last time, Claude," she whispered, 
and he bent his lips to hers. 



THE END 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



THB NBW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY 
BBPBBBNCB DBPABTMBNT 



Tliis book is under ao oiroumstflnoi 
teken from the BnUdrng 



too to bo 






form «!• 



Digiti 



ized by Google 



Digiti 



ized by Google